Category Archives: OPD

Screen time

Sedentary time spent in front of screens programs metabolism and brain neurochem.  Similar to addiction.

But it’s complicated! Partly because there are so many different kinds of activity that can now be done with mobile phones and tablets, and because it’s difficult to control or randomize.

How people interact with screens is changing too. In the mid-2000s in the US, children over 8 spent an average of 6.43 hours a day on electronic media, but this was mainly watching TV.  Evidence of stress response (reduced cortisol increase) on waking after using screens for average 3 hours a day.

But now mobile devices are the centre piece of young people’s social lives.  Boys tend to spend more time gaming, girls more time on social networking.

Effect of high levels of screen time does not seem to be attenuated by equivalent exercise.

High levels of screen time (over 4 hours daily) is associated with poorer school performance. Social skills are poorer. These children tend to form cliques with shared interest, that create further social isolation.

Violent games and media are associated with aggression in children as young as pre-school. Aggression in children can be manifest physically, or verbally, or relationally (ignoring, excluding, spreading rumours). There is also significantly more hostile attribution bias, where you interpret behaviour (such as not being invited to a party) as hostile, even when it is not, or at least ambiguous.

Parental involvement matters – how frequently parents watch TV with their children, discuss content with them, and set limits on time spent playing video games.

Exposure to media violence must also be seen within a risks/resilience approach. [Gentile and Coyne, Aggressive Behaviour 2010] ]

Some evidence that some “social” games themed around cooperation and construction eg Animal crossing have benefits. Similarly, links between media and relational violence pretty weak, but that could be because relational violence content isn’t really examined! Actual content probably more important than time spent playing. Note that in that study of Animal Crossing, background mental health problems seemed to reduce benefit.


In children under 10, high BP is usually secondary to an underlying disease or condition. Primary hypertension increasingly recognised in older, obese children.

Do repeated measurements, ideally automated home BP monitoring, before diagnosing hypertension. Check manually as well as with automated device. Beware “white coat effect”, even if not clearly anxious.

Use appropriate cuff size – cuff should cover at least 75% of the upper arm from the acromion to the olecranon (should be sufficient space at the antecubital fossa to apply stethoscope!) .  An inappropriately small cuff will overestimate BP.

Long list of causes, so follow the clues.

Family history important, of course.


So needs thorough history and examination, including:

  • Fundi
  • Bruits, radiofemoral delay
  • Neck for goitre


Consider then end organ effects –

  • Proteinuria, high creatinine
  • Retinopathy
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy, cardiac failure
  • Abnormal tone and reflexes, cranial nerve deficits if severe


Depends on how high, whether other risk factors (diabetes, chronic kidney disease), symptoms and evidence of end organ damage.

Initially low salt diet, weight loss (if obese).  Remember other morbidities related to obesity.

Acute hypertension might need frusomide and/or nifedipine.

Long term treatment is only going to be started if no improvement with lifestyle measures. Target BP depends on risk factors, as above.

[2016 European Society for Hypertension guidelines]

Infantile Self-gratification

Sometimes called infantile masturbation – but often doesn’t involve touching the genitals at all, which can lead to confusion – can be mistaken for silent reflux, seizures or painful spasms. 

More commonly girls.  Often starts before the age of 1yr, diagnosis often late (median 11 months delay)!  Can happen in car seats, on floor, high chairs, push chairs, falling to sleep etc. 

Characteristic rocking or crossing of legs, often rhythmic. Grunting, sweating, “zoning out” pretty typical.  Can appear tired afterwards (or tiredness is a trigger) and may fall asleep, which might suggest post ictal period!  Some seem to get upset with it!

Key features are distractability, and in particular, irritation when distracted! [Linda Ross etc, ADC 2004]

Fisting often seen in young infants, in older children grasping of clothes or objects, so not just legs! [Hansen, 2009]

Parent friendly article

Nothing to worry about – but no one likes to talk about it and parents can feel mortified. Very little information on internet about it! Distraction is all that is needed. As they get older it is likely to go away by itself – but otherwise teach that it is a private thing! Avoid shame…

Medication Overuse Headache

Well recognised condition where regular long term use of pain killers eg paracetamol leads to chronic headaches. Tends to be dull, particularly in the morning. And you might still get your migraine on top!

Of course, might be difficult to differentiate from chronic daily migraine (defined as more than 15 days in a month) or other headache that is not well controlled! It appears the majority of those with chronic migraine do not take or are not offered appropriate preventive medication.

To exclude, always have a day free of analgesia after any day where it has been used, and use a maximum of 3 days per week [Dr Abu-Arafeh’s advice].

Short Stature

Are they really? Plot height and weight, and check figures if in doubt!

Investigate if:

  • More than 2 standard deviations below mean worthy of investigation,
  • more than 2 standard deviations below mean parental height.
  • Height velocity less than 5cm per year

Is there evidence of chronic disease? Needs full history and examination, including urine dip. Common things would be renal failure, coeliac disease, IBD, hypothyroidism. Endocrine causes tend to produce relatively heavy children, other chronic diseases tend to produce relatively slight children.

Are they dysmorphic? Main syndromes to look out for:

  • Turners – besides short stature, webbed neck, characteristic facies, short metacarpals, broad chest with widely spaced nipples, hyperconvex fingernails and toenails (but can be missed); decreased growth velocity and delayed puberty

Bone age will be delayed in all except familial and idiopathic. Progressively falls behind in endocrine disorders.


Constitutional delay – good weight at birth, then “catch down” growth, dropping through centiles in infancy. Growth velocity is then normal, but with delayed bone age and delayed puberty.

Small for gestational age babies tend to catch up in first few years of life with their genetic potential, but can take up 4 years or more. 10% however remain small (more than 2 SDs below MPH) through life. Consider other causes if no catch up in first 6 months of life or still small at 2 years.

Growth hormone deficiency – can be congenital or acquired (head injury, meningitis etc). Early growth tends to be normal (growth hormone doesn’t contribute much in first few years of life). Look for microphallus and midline facial abnormalities.


  • Karyotype if dysmorphic or if girl
  • TFTs
  • IGF1 – screening test for Growth hormone problems, but may need GH stimulation testing
  • U&Es, LFTs, CRP/ESR
  • Urinalysis
  • Bone age


A functional gastrointestinal problem, where food or other stomach contents effortlessly comes up into the mouth, where it is either then vomited, spat or swallowed. Odour may be a clue.

Diagnosis is on history, but often misdiagnosed as reflux (and resistant to reflux treatment). Typically no nausea, no nocturnal symptoms, no dysphagia but these do not necessarily exclude the diagnosis.

Treatment is diaphragmatic breathing! Baclofen has been used.

Rome IV criteria. Beware eating disorder.


Baby strains and cries to pass stool but it comes out soft or not at all.  Functional gastrointestinal disorder thought to occur in 0.9 – 5% of infants under 6 months (Rome IV criteria).

Due to poor co-ordination of pelvic floor muscles with increased intra-abdominal pressure generated during stooling. Seen in babies up to 9 months.

Studies have reported symptoms of discomfort around passing normal stool in up to 18% of babies, not all of these children will strictly meet the diagnostic criteria for dyschezia.

Differentiating from true constipation etc requires a clinical history and a normal clinical examination, with the key difference being that the stool is not hard in dyschezia.

No medication (or any form of rectal stimulation) required, can be expected to resolve spontaneously.


Seizures, fits, funny turns, convulsions, attacks…  None of these really has a medical meaning.  Convulsion suggests rhythmic motor activity, but that’s about it.  The implication of all of these is that there is excessive abnormal muscle contraction, usually bilateral.  Can be sustained or interrupted.

Nottingham RCPCH approved guideline distinguishes:

  • Febrile?
  • Already on anti-epileptic medication?  Consider checking levels, or at least storing sample.
  • Predisposing conditions? eg neurodevelopmental problem, brain injury/surgery.
  • Neonate or young infant? Some additional possibilities eg hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE), Fifth day fits, drug withdrawal (neonatal abstinence syndrome), pyridoxine dependent epilepsy.

Most commonly Febrile convulsions ie age related, benign.  Beware complex (multiple seizures in same illness, focal features, prolonged >15 mins) and any abnormal findings eg neck stiffness, bulging fontanelle, prolonged illness, abnormal cognition before/after.

Important differentials are:

  • meningitis
  • encephalitis
  • shaken baby (non-accidental injury)
  • brain tumour/haemorrhage, hydrocephalus
  • ingestion (deliberate or accidental)
  • metabolic (low glucose, calcium/magnesium, low/high sodium)

May represent first evidence of epilepsy.


See BTS/SIGN guidance on asthmaasthma prevention, asthma and obesity

National asthma guidance conflicting – NICE recommends both spirometry and Fractional exhaled nitric oxide to confirm diagnosis, has rejected “trial of treatment” and de-emphasized peak flow monitoring.

FeNO is expensive and available in only a minority of GP practices and hospital services.  Requiring it means GPs can no longer make diagnosis themselves.

Spirometry results in most primary care patients with asthma are normal!

Other difference from SIGN/BTS is Leukotriene Receptor Antagonist (LRA) as first choice add on rather than Long acting Beta agonist (LABA), on basis of marginal benefit but increased cost.

Primary care respiratory society UK has produced advice on how to deal with conflicting national guidelines – reasserts prime importance of good clinical method and regular reassessment, prioritises peak flow monitoring alongside trials of treatment if necessary.

[BMJ editorial 2017]

Spacer best for everyone!

200 doses in an MDI.   2 puffs BD exhausts an MDI in 50 days. Multidosing 5 puffs 4hrly will exhaust it in 6 days.

Growth Restriction

Children who use inhaled steroids for asthma grow slower than their peers in the first year of taking the medication, by about half a centimetre per year. Metanalysis of 25 trials, various types of steroid.  Seems to be most obvious in initial year of treatment.  Only 1 study followed children into adulthood – budesonide, used for average of 4 years – reduction in final height of  1.2cm (Kelly, PMID 22938716).

Should therefore be prescribed at the lowest effective dose. Cochrane 2014 found significant difference between low dosing (50-100 Clenil equivalent) and medium dosing  of 0.2cm per year but noted that the  majority of trials did not report height data.

However, the small effect on growth needs to be weighed against the proven benefits of these drugs in controlling asthma, and ensuring children’s lungs grow to their full capacity.   Undertreated asthma is much more likely to have a harmful effect on a child’s development than a small reduction in growth.

Newer Therapies

Xolair=Omalizumab, monoclonal vs IgE. Subcut, 2-4 weekly, for age 6+ where conventional therapy not working.  Other criteria are total igE >30, positive tests for aeroallergens, FEV1<80%.

Airsonett is evidence based, temperature controlled laminar flow system for bedroom. Noisy!


See National review of asthma deaths.  Recommendations include:

  • Refer specialist if >=2 courses oral steroids within 12 month period
  • Follow up after every ED/OOH attendance
  • Hospital follow up after every hospital attendance
  • Annual inhaler technique check
  • Personal asthma plan for everyone

See website for self management.

Penis problems

The foreskin cannot, and should not, be retracted in newborn babies.  It should gradually begin to separate in the first few years of life.

Recurrent balanitis leads to scarring around the meatus, so that you cannot see the slit opening of the penis itself.  In this case, the foreskin will balloon on passing urine (a minor degree of this can still be seen in children without scarring.

Can try application of topical steroid creams: 0.05% betamethasone cream should be used twice daily for 2 to 4 weeks.  Gently retract foreskin without causing any discomfort and apply a thick layer of cream to the tightest part of the foreskin.  Steroid creams of higher potency may be tried if this fails.

Circumcision if significant phimosis and steroid creams fail.

Smegma pearls

Retained smegma can accumulate into substantial but painless lumps down the shaft of the penis.  Can be ignored.

Balanitis Xerotica Obliterans

A form of lichen sclerosus affecting the tip of the penis, causing white, crinkly thickening.