Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder in which red blood cells become C-shaped, causing impaired blood flow, pain, and other health problems. Symptoms usually show up by about 5 months of age.
Although a child who has sickle cell disease should be under a doctor's care, parents can do many things at home to minimize symptoms and maintain the child's health.
Contagious diseases like the flu can be dangerous for children with sickle cell disease. They, as well as their caregivers and family members, should wash their hands several times a day with soap and water to minimize the spread of the flu virus and other germs. Children with sickle cell disease are also vulnerable to illness from a bacterium called salmonella. To avoid salmonella, they should avoid eating raw or undercooked meats and eggs, and avoid touching reptiles, which can carry the bacterium. Make sure your child's immunizations are up to date.
If your child has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius), accompanied by chills and a lack of energy, contact your child's doctor for advice. Resist the temptation to simply treat your child at home with fever-reducing medications because the fever could be a sign of a more serious complication.
Extremely hot or cold temperatures may trigger a sickle cell crisis, such as a sudden episode of pain throughout the body. To keep your child's body temperature at the best level, always make sure he or she wears a coat during cold weather and spends as much time as possible in air-conditioned areas on hot days.
Children with sickle cell disease will sometimes experience pain episodes for no known cause. Talk with your child's health care provider about the best ways to handle these episodes at home. It may be appropriate to give your child pain-relieving drugs like ibuprofen for mild episodes or stronger pain relievers for more severe flare-ups. Heating pads, warm baths, and massage may also be soothing.
Make sure to introduce healthy practices into your child's daily life. Drinking plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration and eating a balanced diet are important. Children with sickle cell disease should also participate in physical activity and stay active. Rest breaks are advised, though, to avoid working too hard or becoming overly tired.
Children with sickle cell disease, particularly teenagers, may have a hard time coping with their condition because of delayed puberty. They may also feel anxious about having sudden pain episodes. Support groups for children with sickle cell disease can be helpful in learning ways to cope with these situations, and for simply sharing their worries with peers who have similar concerns and feelings. Ask your child's doctor or your local hospital for advice on finding a group in your area.