Category Archives: Common

Scarlet Fever

Has Victorian connotations as fatal epidemics of Scarlet fever swept through slums in the pre-antibiotic era.

Group A streptococcus pyogenes is still carried in up to 20% of young children’s throats. Disease peaks in winter and spring (cool conditions, and more time indoors?). Spread easily through saliva.

Scarlet fever (scarlatina is usually used for mild cases) is when an exotoxin is produced, that causes fever and rash. Characteristic features are:

  • Strawberry tongue – progresses from white coated, to red, beefy tongue as coating lifts.
  • Perioral pallor
  • Fiery, widespread rash – rough “sandpaper” feel characteristic
  • Pastia’s lines – lines of petechiae in creases esp wrists, elbows
  • Palatal petechiae (“Forchheimer spots”) – not specific, also measles. 
  • As rash fades, desquamation can occur, particularly on fingers/toes. Should only happen once in lifetime, as antibodies form to toxin!?

No longer notifiable in Scotland, cf England/Wales.

Complications can still be severe of course, as with any group A strep disease:

Benefit of antibiotic treatment just ½ day symptoms! But without treatment would need to exclude from nursery/school for 14 days!!! Else after 24hrs antibiotics.

No resistance to penicillin and low MIC so preferred, although 10 day course needed for clearance from throat, as opposed to clinical improvement. Other antibiotics eg clindamycin may be chosen however if invasive disease.

Asthma and allergy stereotypes

Le Chiffre in Casino Royale may use a custom metal inhaler, but the implication is clear – he is not as masculine as James Bond.

“Mikey from “The Goonies,” who is portrayed as vulnerable and nervous and is seen taking puffs from his inhaler whenever a situation is particularly scary. Stevie from “Malcolm in the Middle” who suffers from severe asthma can barely make it through a sentence without gasping for breath and wheezing uncontrollably.

“Though he is also proclaimed a genius, it is this perceived weakness that becomes his defining characteristic.

“The stereotype even translates to cartoons, with Carl Wheezer from “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and Millhouse from “The Simpsons” represented as weak and timid individuals who are used as comic relief whenever they are upset and need a puff from an inhaler to control their symptoms triggered by anxiety.” [American lung association blog]

In the film Hitch, the lovable accountant Alfred uses his inhaler when he is scared to take action.  Until he is inspired to greater manliness, and he throws it away and mounts the steps to kiss his girl in passion, no longer shackled by his psychological, rather than medical, condition. [https://mbtimetraveler.com/tag/asthma-portrayal-in-television-and-movies/]

Even JK Rowling is guilty – see her TV show “The casual vacancy”.

Stephen King’s It has a hypochondriac asthmatic character Eddie Kaspbrak – although at least there is a genuinely terrifying scene where he has an asthma attack and his inhaler has run out – but even this has been triggered by bullying, enforcing the “nerd” stereotype.

Wheezy in Toy Story 2 is also a rather pathetic character.

Positive role models lacking. David Beckham and Harry Styles are some of the few.

Children with asthma, not surprisingly, are highly sceptical of such portrayals. Non asthmatic children obviously don’t appraise movie scenes for their meanings but they do judge the social context of the drama [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22574393/]

Few if any other medical conditions seem to get the same treatment…

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Rome IV classification gives definition as:

Recurrent abdominal pain, at least once per week for at least 3 months, associated with at least 2 of:

  • Associated with defecation
  • Change in bowel frequency
  • Change in stool form/appearance

Bloating has been removed from diagnostic criteria as it has no predictive value, being common across all kinds of GI issues.

Subtypes then based on stool form on symptomatic days – predominantly constipation, predominantly diarrhoea, mixed constipation/diarrhoea.

Normal physical examination supports diagnosis. Tests should include FBC to exclude iron deficiency anaemia, CRP for IBD, TTG antibody for coeliac disease.

Management

Trial of lactose, fructose and wheat free diet if suspected link to consumption of these foods (non coeliac gluten sensitivity occurs).

Low FODMAP diet is challenging but can help – should be supervised by dietician.

Reassurance – making diagnosis helps justify not investigating fruitlessly.

[J Clin Med 2017]

Liver Function Tests

Bilirubin needs to be around 60 to see visible jaundice.

AST is less specific than ALT – also produced in kidney, brain etc. But perhaps changes more quickly than ALT. Most important other source of AST and ALT is muscle – so check CK too, especially if bilirubin normal. Myopathies, viral myositis, muscular dystrophy can all present with “abnormal LFTs”.

Gamma GT is also found in other tissues so not 100% specific but typically suggests cholestasis or other biliary problem (together with alkaline phosphatase).

Alkaline phosphatase also produced in bone, so look at calcium, phosphate and vitamin D as well as signs of rickets or renal disease. Most common cause of isolated high alkaline phosphatase is benign transient hyperphosphatasaemia. There is a rare inherited disease of bone/tooth mineralisation, hypophosphatasia, where levels of ALP are abnormally low.

Falling transaminases can be ominous in situation of bilirubin, albumin, coagulation deteriorating…

Asthma and Obesity

Obesity can mimic asthma, it affects respiratory symptoms and lung mechanics, but it can also overlap of course. Asthma is more often diagnosed in obese (misdiagnosed?). High birth weight is associated. , as is maternal obesity (and gestational weight gain) in pregnancy. Each BMI increase of 1kg/m2 increases risk by 2-3%!

Obesity is one of the factors associated with fatal asthma attacks (but note socioeconomic confounding).

Weight reduction leads to improved lung function, health status, symptoms and morbidity in adults. Not yet proven in adolescents.

Slightly increased risk of acute asthma attacks in obese adults and school age children.

Epstein Barr virus

One of the Herpes virus family, and like other herpesviruses (herpes, varicella) becomes latent in the body after infection, in the case of EBV in B-lymphocytes. Immune system has developed specific strategies over the course of human evolution to control it – hence specific immunodeficiencies such as Duncan’s syndrome where EBV appears to be the only infection that becomes problematic (even catastrophic).

Associated with a number of tumours, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Burkitt Lymphoma (especially in Africa), nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

In most children, a mild febrile illness, with lymphadenopathy (“glandular fever” or infectious mononucleosis), sore throat (can be severe). Failure to improve with antibiotics is a clue! Peak age for severe presentations is teenagers – “kissing disease” (sexually transmitted!? Edinburgh students study found lower rates if routine barrier methods used). Prolonged incubation period of 30-50 days!

Classically rash triggered by amoxicillin (which is why amoxicillin isn’t recommended for sore throats, but rash can be seen with penicillin too) – maculopapular, sometimes petechial and/or urticarial, which is rather more suggestive.

On examination, hepatosplenomegaly can be seen.

Blood film characteristically shows atypical lymphocytosis. Monospot test (for heterophile antibodies) 70-90% sensitive so has false negatives as well as false positives so may need to proceed to PCR if important to know.

Mild hepatitis and cholestasis pretty common.

Rarer features are dacrocystitis, pneumonia, myocarditis, low platelets and neutrophils, interstitial nephritis, encephalitis. Haemophagocytic syndrome. 20x higher risk of Guillain Barre syndrome after EBV

Management

Supportive.

Splenic rupture after EBV has been reported but is very rare. Advice usually given to avoid contact sports. In ultrasound studies, peak spleen size is typically noted within the first 2 weeks of illness, but may extend to 3.5 weeks. The majority of spleen injuries occur within the first 21 days of illness and are exceedingly rare at >28 days, so one month avoidance probably sufficient.

A minority develop chronic fatigue type symptoms.

[Sports health 2014]

Hay fever

=allergic rhinoconjunctivitis due to seasonal triggers, typically grass and/or tree pollen. First described by John Bostock in 1819! More likely if born in early months of year!

So itchy, swollen, watery eyes, runny and/or blocked nose, sneezing. Often itchy throat and ears too. Cobble stone appearance can be seen at the back of throat.

Not dangerous, but can seriously affect quality of life: poor sleep, poor concentration (exams usually at worst time of year), embarrassment about snot. One study showed children in England that children with hay fever requiring anti-histamines are significantly more likely (43%) not to achieve predicted exam grades, especially when using first generation sedating antihistamines such as Piriton (chlorphenamine)  [Samantha Walker, JACI 2007: 120; 381-387].

Associated with other atopic conditions, such as food allergy and asthma. Moderate to severe hay fever also associated with worse, uncontrolled asthma. London study found hospital admissions for asthma 50% higher 3 days after high grass pollen levels (inconclusive for tree pollen). [Int J Biometeorol. 2017] Brussels study found similar, compounded by air pollution. Treatment of hay fever with intranasal steroids or class 2 antihistamines reduced admissions by up to 80%. [asthma res and pract 2015]

Pollen is too large to trigger the lower airways directly, rather, pollen exposure in the upper airways trigger inflammation that travels down (probably over a period of weeks) to the lower airways. An exception is when pollen grains are fragmented, as seen in thunder storm asthma where one night in Melbourne, 2016, several thousand acute respiratory presentations came to ED (up over 400%), ambulance service was overwhelmed, hospitals ran out of inhalers. 10 deaths implicated. [Australia, Clin Exp Allergy. 2018;48:1421‐1428]. Complex though, rain/moisture probably contribute to pollen grain rupture, and atmospherics bring surges of pollen down to ground level.

There are many different species of grass, but if allergic to one you tend to be allergic to all of them. Trees on the other hand vary, you tend to be allergic to specific groups of trees. In Europe the most important are birch (northern Europe) and olive (Southern Europe). Birch is related to alder, hazel, beech and oak.  Olive is related to ash.  Weeds belong to various unrelated families.

Hazel trees can start producing pollen in January! Weeds such as nettle can continue producing pollen through September! Moulds seem more associated with asthma than hay fever. Cypress blooms in winter!  Average start of grass season in Scotland is the 1st of June (blue on chart below), peak is mid-June to mid-July.

Pollen seasons in Scotland – University of Worcester Pollen Lab

It’s not just pollen count – the amount of allergen carried by the pollen (“pollen potency“) varies too. Correlates pretty closely but varies by time and place, 4-5 fold difference geographically (especially grass). France has the highest yearly average grass pollen potency, 7-fold higher than Portugal. Olive pollen from two locations 400km apart varied 4-fold in their allergen potency – in Portugal there are times when pollen from Spain probably more of a problem for triggering hay fever than pollen from “local” trees! [Health Impacts of Airborne Allergen Information Network (HIALINE project)]

Management

Watch the pollen count, and choose activities inside or outside accordingly. There are apps that can help with this. But note that the time of day is important too – for grass pollen, the risk is greatest in the first half of the morning and again from about 4pm in the afternoon, until late evening. But can persist into the early hours if temperatures remain high, this effect is particularly noticeable in the cities of the south of England. For tree pollen, the risk is usually during daylight hours only.

Closing windows, or at least not sitting near windows should help. Wash your hair more regularly. Don’t dry clothes outside. Pollen barrier balms available (evidence?). Big, wrap around sunglasses?

Choose when and where you are going on holiday carefully, so you get away during the worst period. North of Scotland and the islands have a short, late grass season (late June, early July). Coastal areas likely to be best (although often there are fields just back from the coast, so it may depend on the wind direction!). For tree pollen, season is earlier for most (see above), and there are parts of Scotland (Orkney, Lewis, Caithness, Sutherland) with very few trees. For holidays abroad, see World pollen data.

Antihistamines – oral or nasal. Various, some people find one works better than another Sedating antihistamines eg Chlorphenamine should be avoided except at night. Nasal steroids useful if used correctly. Combination steroid/antihistamine available. Leukotriene receptor antagonist licensed for hay fever in children with asthma.

Short courses of oral steroids might be justified for special occasions.

Immunotherapy available, grass (Grazax, Pollinex Grass and rye) or tree pollen (Pollinex tree) – metanalysis by Dhami S et al of grass desensitization in children, using either subcutaneous or sublingual therapy, found overall standardized mean difference (SMD) of -0.53 (95% CI -0.63, -0.42) in symptoms scores (roughly equal numbers of SCIT and SLIT studies, roughly equivalent scores)  [Allergy 2017]. Deaths reported in asthmatics with poor control.

Sublingual vs subcutaneous- age not important cf ability to hold in mouth for 2 minutes!

Not approved by SMC in Scotland yet. Combined grass and house dust mite coming.

[Sian Ludman, St Mary’s]

For symptoms all year round (perennial), triggers such as house dust mite and pets are more likely.

BTS/SIGN Asthma guidance

Latest revision 2019. See also asthma.

Diagnosis is about probability – high probability is recurrent episodes of cough, wheeze, breathlessness, chest tightness plus documented wheeze, atopic history, documented variable PEF or FEV1. Isolated episodic cough is not sufficient. Episodes typically triggered by viral infections, cold air, exertion, laughter or emotion. Start treatment, “typically” 6 weeks inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). If good response to treatment, then diagnosis is confirmed.

Diagnostic algorithm for asthma

If intermediate probability then spirometry with reversibility is preferred initial test for children old enough to do it (Grade D recommendation). If spirometry normal, then do challenge tests and/or Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO) measurement. For younger children, watchful waiting or trial of treatment.

FeNO has reasonable positive predictive value, but false positives in allergic rhinitis, rhinovirus and dietary nitrates, plus overlap in values between asthmatics and normal population (especially children).

Red flags –

  • Focal chest signs
  • Abnormal voice or cry
  • Failure to thrive
  • Vomiting
  • Wet/productive cough
  • Nasal polyps

Management

Self management education, written personalized plan. Assess control – consider using Asthma Control Test (ACT) questionnaire or similar.

Assess risk of future attacks. Co-morbid atopic conditions, younger age, obesity, and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke are markers of increased risk (some of these strongly socioeconomically linked, of course).

Ask specifically about medication use and assess prescriptions. Explore attitudes to medication as well as practical barriers to adherence.

Not for routine house dust mite avoidance measures. Avoid smoking and second hand smoke.

Weight loss (including dietary and exercise programmes) for overweight and obese. Breathing exercise programmes can be offered as an adjuvant to pharmacological treatment for adults.

Treatment

ICS are recommended preventer. An asthma attack in the previous 2 years, symptoms 3 days a week, or using reliever 3 days a week, or waking 1 night a week are indications. Give twice daily at least until good control established.

Start at dose appropriate for the severity of the disease. In mild to moderate asthma, no benefit in starting at high dose and weaning. In children, “reasonable” starting dose is Very Low (100mcg twice daily of Clenil or equivalent).

5yrs and over, if add-on is required then choice between inhaled long acting beta agonist (LABA) or leukotriene receptor antagonist (LTRA). Only then increase dose of ICS from very low (100mcg Clenil or equivalent twice daily) to low (200mcg twice daily).

For exercise induced symptoms, generally just a sign that inadequate control! But if otherwise well controlled then give inhaled short acting beta agonist immediately prior to exercise. Then choice between LRTA, LABA, cromoglicate or theophylline.

Acute Severe Asthma

Levels of acute asthma attacks in children
  • Sats under 92%
  • PEF 33-50% of best or predicted
  • Can’t complete sentences in one breath, or too breathless to feed
  • HR >140 (under 5), >125 (over 5)
  • RR>40 (under 5), >30 (over 5)

Life threatening defined as:

  • PEF <33%
  • Exhaustion, poor resp effort [tautology?]
  • Hypotension
  • Cyanosis
  • Silent chest
  • Confusion

Treat –

  • Oxygen
  • MDI plus spacer if mild/moderate
  • If refractory to beta agonist, add ipratropium 250mcg mixed into beta agonist [same dose for everyone]
  • “Consider adding 150mg magnesium sulphate to each neb in first hour if symptoms started <6hrs and presenting with sats <92%” [Recommendation based on MAGNETIC trial – no overall benefit but better Asthma Severity Score at 1 hour for this subgroup – see below] – 2.5ml of 250mmol/ml (1000mg made up to 16ml)
  • Give oral steroids early, dose by age.

Second line treatment –

  • Consider single IV bolus of salbutamol (15mcg/kg over 10mins)
  • Consider aminophylline for severe asthma unresponsive to maximal doses of bronchodilators and steroids.
  • Consider IV MgSO4 40mg/kg/d

Systematic review of IV Magnesium in children (2018) – pulmonary function improved, hospitalization and further treatment decreased. MAGNETIC trial of Magnesium nebs did not show a clinically significant improvement in mean asthma severity scores in children with acute severe asthma. Best clinical response was seen in children with saturations <92% at presentation and those with preceding symptoms lasting less than 6 hours [Lancet 2013].

Diarrhoea

According to NICE, 3 or more loose or liquid stools in a day (or more frequently than is normal for the individual) counts as diarrhoea.

Persisting for more than 14 days makes it chronic.

Acute typically gastroenteritis. Presence of blood and/or mucus suggests more invasive inflammation, viz colitis.

In kids, can occur with pretty much any illness!

Vomiting with diarrhoea makes a primary gut cause more likely, but still not specific.

Prolonged Jaundice

Physiological is because Long chain FAs in breast milk compete with Glucuronyl transferase! Dehydration and poor feeding contribute (jaundice FOLLOWS, does not cause). But can also be seen in bottle fed babies.

Prolonged jaundice defined as 21/7 if well, term according to American Academy of Pediatrics. After that, investigation probably appropriate.

Unconjugated vs Conjugated bilirubin is important – do direct bilirubin. Conj bili >20 may indicate significant disease, esp if unconj not high. Low albumin suggests prenatal onset.

Unconjugated

  • Haemolysis (so liver function tests normal): eg rhesus disease (diagnosis: Direct Coombs Test Positive), ABO, irregular antibodies (Kell, Duffy; varying significance), hereditary sphero/elliptocytosis, G6PD deficiency, DIC. G6PD in baby can be precipitated by maternal drugs/infection. Enzyme assay false negative because of high retic count, so test mother for carrier status.
  • Crigler Najjar is unconjugated. Uridine Di Phos Glucuronyl transferase deficiency (Dubin Johson/Rotor only present >2 yr). Recessive form is severe, assoc with kernicterus; dominant can be treated with phenobarb.
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Galactosaemia – in the first week of life can be unconjugated but always features liver dysfunction cf Crigler Najjar so unlikely to be any confusion.

Conjugated

Suggests hepatitis. Note that Alk phos in normal neonates is often high in isolation. See BSPGHAN protocol.

  • Congenital Biliary Atresia
  • Choledochal cyst: assoc with East Asians, PKD (Caroli’s disease). Cystic mass below liver. Can rupture and cause ascites, cause obstruction +/or cholangitis. Late carcinoma risk.
  • Spont CBD perforation – discoloured umbilicus, paracentesis diagnostic. Rx Surg
  • Gallstones – possible!
  • Congenital viral infection (TORCH), enteroviruses (esp ECHO, assoc with fulminant hepatitis), sepsis (eg UTI, listeria assoc with hepatic abscesses).
  • Cystic fibrosis and bile plug syndrome
  • Inherited Metabolic Disorders: galactosaemia, Zellweger’s, haemochromatosis, etc.
  • Alpha -1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Alagille’s syndrome
  • Endocrine disorders: congenital hypothyroidism (1 in 60 000), pituitary/adrenal underactivity.