ExperiSense NZ Review: Exploring The Human Body Through Art Homeschool Box

WHAT IS IN THE EXPERISENSE NZ BIOLOGY HOMESCHOOL BOX?

I purchased the ExperiSense NZ Biology Box for NZD$25 to add a kinaesthetic dimension to our learning about the human body. The box provides fun learning crafts to do that are fully aligned with the NZ Curriculum and are highly adaptable to age, interest, and special needs.

The kit comes with a great book and ideas for ways to explore the content in the book (including most of the craft materials required). We added to it with a few great (and inexpensive) additions from Kmart: Factivity: Amazing Body Sticker Activity Book, Write & Wipe Wellbeing Book, and a poseable art mannequin for exploring movements and joints.

This is a great way for kids to ask questions like ‘What is in the human body?’ and ‘How does my body work?’. The kit proved to be fantastic value as the book alone retails for around NZD$20. It’s a well laid out hardback book, aimed at primary school aged children (KS1/KS2), with heaps of colour photos (as well as cool radiology and specialist pictures from hospital imaging).

What are the organs of the human body?

Miss 6 loves the Tinybop Human Body app so was keen to jump straight into having a life-size drawing of herself made on the paper provided. She then did a pretty good job of guessing where the internal organs (supplied) should get blu-tacked on and discussing what human organs do. Honestly, the two she wasn’t sure of (pancreas and gallbladder) I had to google myself to check where to place them. She’s pretty stoked that it’s hanging in the hallway along with other artwork from this box.

We also did reading about human organs in the book provided and did activities about them in our Factivity book. She also made up some pretty cool song and dance routines to demonstrate how organs like the human heart work.

The optional extension activity is to draw an additional system (such as the circulatory system or the nervous system) on the human body and talk about what organ systems these link to and how they support their function.

What does my skeleton look like?

We read about bones in the Human Body book and then did an x-ray activity in our Factivity book. One of the x-ray stickers was of a human hand – which perfectly tied in with our next craft.

The kit provides black paper, white paint, and instructions on creating your own radiology x-ray of a human hand; you will need to supply cotton bud sticks and strong craft glue. Tip: if you add water to the paint you will only need a little amount! Our first learning-by-doing part of the morning was realizing that thinning the paint too much simply has it oozing beneath the placed hand! Our second attempt went much better and we decided that using a smaller brush for flicking the paint also works better than a large brush.

There are lots of ways that kids can approach this activity. Miss 6 decided to have our ‘hand x-ray’ sticker in front of us and count how many bones should get placed for each finger. She was also fascinated by the negative space that our art created and we went on to create more body themed art along this theme.

We also used our poseable mannequin to explore the interplay between bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. We had fun taking turns posing the figure while the other person tried to replicate it in real life. We also used it when looking at how to draw a person.

What is in human blood?

Human blood is made up of several components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. We’d already had fun learning about blood in our Factivity book – including exciting face-offs between red and white blood cells in a Tic Tac Toe championship.

The kit provided us with the materials needed to make our own sensory exploration of the human blood stream. We were supplied with both red and white water beads (Orbeez) which we used as red blood cells (pretending these were a mix of ones carrying oygen outward to the body, and depleted ones returning to get pumped to the lungs); red foam platelets for clotting, and wooden white cells for fighting infection. You’ll also need a container for soaking them in water; we had fun using our test tubes but as they grow dramatically we had most of them in a plastic tub.

We had lots of fun making this up and playing with it in the garden. We found the water beads were also useful for exploring other scientific principles such as: refraction of light; gravity, momentum, and incline surfaces; and applications of force. The last one included everything from experimenting with how much weight the water beads could support (i.e. like lily pads), the best way to crush them, how many could fit into various containers, and what size funnel they would fit through!

How to perform a simple magic trick

Squawking chicken magic trick!

Miss 6 enjoyed watching Disney’s Magic Camp so she was excited that the final activity in the box was a simple magic trick to help us explore amplification and hearing. We did a series of experiments to explore how the cup helped to amplify sound and really did get a chicken like sound (the secret being to have a highly waxed flattened strip at the end of the string and using a damp bamboo cloth). We also talked about natural environments we have visited the shape of the land has created a natural amphitheatre that amplifies sound.

Wondering what to do with those candles afterwards? We lit ours (parental supervision required) and discussed how the candle demonstrated changes to states of matter and what the causal factor was (heat). We also toasted marshmellows and created another magic trick – using paper, the melting candle wax, and dye to create simple batik art on paper!

Interested in more homeschool box reviews?

Discover the World with ATLAS Crate

#1 Introducing the World

#2 Discover Japan

Explore STEM with Kiwi Crate

#1 Arcade Box (and the Claw!)

#2 The Amazing Animation Box (make your own 19th century movie with a Zoetrope!)

#3 The Mechanical Sweeper Box (make your own baleen whale!)

#4 The Disc Launchers Box (play games with physics!)

#5 Kaleidoscope Puzzles (explore symmetry and mirrors!)

ExperisenseNZ

Exploring Maths through Art

Exploring Space through Art

Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

What foods contain soy?

Soy beans (edamame)

Soy beans (edamame) are an obvious form of soy; you will be surprised how many of the foods you eat are hiding soy!

Is soy really hiding in everything I eat?

You may be surprised how many of the foods you eat each day contain hidden soy. I’ve written previously about  soybean oil (normally called vegetable oil) and soy lecithin. These are incredibly widely used in the international food industry because they are cheap, grown year round, and are not FDA regulated (i.e. these do not have to be declared as an allergen on packaging). These are often hidden in compound ingredients, as are other products that may be soy derived. I have to check ingredients every single time I buy something (even if I’ve bought it before). I don’t buy anything containing oil or emulsifiers unless those are 100% declared and identifiable (i.e. canola oil and sunflower lecithin). 

I also have to be careful about bathroom products because glyercin can be soy derived. I’ve changed our bathroom to natural products like shampoo bars and chemical free soap products.

What foods contain soy?

I’ve tried to keep the table below to ingredients. The reality is that these ingredients can be in anything other than raw fruit, most raw vegetables, and most unprocessed raw meats. Soy can be present in anything else including bread, biscuits, crackers, dried fruit (i.e. sultanas have oil added), deli meats, bacon, sausages, peanut butter, spreadable butter, margarine, spice mixes; I’ve even looked at tins of ‘beans in springwater’ which have had soy!

I’ve inserted the table it as a photo so that it’s possible to save the image to your phone or print it for your wallet.

Ingredients that may contain SOY

Ingredients that may contain SOY

Note: Also miso (as a soup or paste)!

What are turbinates and why do they need surgery to reduce them? (Are you sleeping badly? This may be why!)

What do swollen turbinates look like

What do swollen turbinates look like

If you’ve never heard of turbinates before then you’re not the only one! As long as they’re working well then the subject is unlikely to ever come up; they are also not something that your regular doctor (GP) is able to review – finding out there’s a problem first requires a referral to an Ears Nose Throat (ENT) specialist because of the symptoms you are experiencing.

Your turbinates can have a surprisingly large impact on your quality of sleep; this is especially true in young children and the problems are even more exacerbated if they also have troubles with their ears, adenoids, and tonsils.

What are turbinates?

Turbinates are bony structures (covered in moist tissue called the nasal mucous membrane). Inside your nose there are three sets of turbinates: upper (superior), the middle, and the lower (inferior).

Lateral nasal airway

Lateral Nasal Airway: Turbinates, Adenoids, Eustachian Tube Opening

Why do we need turbinates? What do turbinates do?

The turbinates have several important functions:

  • Help warm and moisturize air as it flows through the nose.
  • Protect the openings into your paranasal sinuses.
  • Help create airflow through your nose (important for your sense of smell!).
  • Trap micro-organisms (like viruses) and pollutants (like pollen).
  • Help the voice to resonate (i.e. they affect how we sound).
  • Produce mucous to help clean out the nose and assist the cilia in their work.
  • Help to regulate pressure in the sinuses.
  • Help the nose and sinus cavities to drain.
  • The turbinates play an important mechanical function when we sleep.  When you sleep on the right side, with the right turbinate down, over time the right turbinate fills up with fluid and expands so that it pushes against the septum; this makes you turn on the left side until that side fills up and turns you again. If the turbinates are not functioning correctly then you may wake up feeling cramped and sore with achey muscles.

Turbinates and sinus cavities

Feeling the pressure? Healthy turbinates help regulate pressure and drainage of the sinus cavities.

What causes turbinates to swell?

One of the most common causes of swollen turbinates (turbinate hypertrophy) are airborne allergies (allergic rhinitis) such as grass or weed pollen, birch tree pollen, or dust mites.

Other causes can include repeat upper respiratory infections, hormones, drugs, medication (i.e. as a complication from long-term nasal spray use).

Healthy inferior turbinate

Healthy inferior turbinate – you can see quite clearly that there is a tunnel for air to flow freely past the turbinates.

Swollen turbinates

Swollen turbinates – you can see how they have swollen and are bulging out across the airway to the nasal septum.

What are the possible side effects of swollen turbinates?

  • Stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Facial Pain
  • Pressure (often in forehead). In young children this may result in behavioural issues, trouble concentrating, or head banging.
  • Nasal drip
  • Loss of Sense of Taste and/or Smell
  • Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and/or snoring. This is especially problematic if adenoids and/or tonsils are also swollen and obstructive sleep apnea develops.
  • Fatigue. Children might seem like they’re getting enough hours of sleep but in reality the quality of sleep is poor because their body is struggling to get enough oxygen through the night. It’s a bit like starting each day on a half tank of gas.
  • Sore, cramped, achey muscles in the morning. Healthy turbinates play an important mechanical function when we sleep; they are key to helping us unconsciously change which side we are sleeping on through the night.
  • Developmental delays. Sleep is critical for young children. During those early years, they are rapidly growing and learning. They need sleep to focus during the day; to have time for their brain to make connections between all the things they have learned or experienced; and their brain releases a growth hormone while they sleep. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can make it harder for them to stay on track.
  • Behavioural difficulties. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can result in daily misery that children don’t know how to express.

Why do turbinates need surgery?

An Ears Nose Throat (ENT) specialist will be able to examine the interior of the nose quickly and painlessly during outpatient appointments; they may also opt for imaging scans such as x-ray or CT.

It is likely that they will suggest trying non-invasive means initially to see if this reduces the swelling, This is likely to involve a steroidal nasal spray and anti-histamine medication (in the case of allergic rhinitis). They may also recommend additional saline spray / drops to help keep the nose irrigated, or using a humidifier.

If these options do not work an symptoms have not been alleviated then they are likely to recommend surgery. Note: it is important that turbinates are reduced (not removed) and they will slowly regrow; in order for them not to become swollen again, any other underlying issues must still be addressed.

What does turbinate reduction surgery (turbinoplasty) involve?

Turbinates perform highly important functions and removing them entirely can cause a raft of new issues; surgeons will normally opt to reduce the turbinates. There are different methods that can be used; some remove tissue and others aim to shrink them through other means.

A procedure called submucosal resection is a common technique used to treat enlarged turbinates. With this procedure, the lining of the turbinate is left intact, but the “stuffing” from the inside of the turbinate is removed. As the turbinate heals, it will be much smaller than before surgery. Sometimes, this resection can be performed with a device called a microdebrider. This device allows the surgeon to remove the “stuffing” through a small opening in the turbinate. In some instances, more of the turbinate is removed.

Some of these methods shrink the turbinates without removing the turbinate bone or tissue. These methods include cauterization, coblation, and radiofrequency reduction. In each of these methods, a portion of the turbinate is heated up with a special device. Over time, scar tissue forms in the heated portion of turbinate, causing the turbinate to shrink in size.

Turbinoplasty is generally an outpatient procedure performed under general anaesthetic and patients can go home the same day.

Want to find out more about surgery or risks? The American Rhinologic Society has useful information.

What happens after surgery?

You can expect to have pain, fatigue, nasal stuffiness, and a clear fluid nasal discharge for several days after surgery. If this was the only surgery being performed then pain is generally mild  and typically well controlled with pain medications. A saline spray and/or steroidal nasal spray are likely to be recommended to use for several weeks after the surgery.

Swelling as a result of the procedure means that there may still be snoring for a week or two after the surgery, as well as a general feeling of stuffiness. The fluid discharge will generally begin to improve and crust after the first week.

Patients may be off school or work for a week and are recommended to avoid strenuous activity for two to three weeks afterwards.

 

What are tonsils and why do they need removing? (What is a tonsillectomy or adenotonsillectomy?)

How inflamed tonsils compare with normal tonsils

How inflamed tonsils compare with normal tonsils

What are tonsils?

Tonsils are soft tissue located at the back of your throat; they are part of the body’s lymphatic system (so are adenoids). When they are working properly, they help to recognise bacteria and viruses entering through the mouth and produce white blood cells to fight off infection.

Tonsils are particularly useful during childhood while the body is still encountering new bacteria and viruses for the first time and building up the immune system. Doctors seem to be of differing opinion as to how useful they are as adults; I’ve some that have called them redundant and unnecessary, I’ve also met other doctors who view removing them as an absolute last resort.

Why do tonsils need removing?

Tonsils may temporarily swell while fighting infection, sometimes they become so swollen that they result in a very sore throat and fever (tonsilitis), they may also partially obstruct the airways and not respond to non-invasive treatmeants.

Surgery may be recommended to help treat:

  • Multiple case of tonsillitis (seven cases of tonsillitis or strep in the last year, or five cases or more over each of the last two years).
  • Breathing problems related to swollen tonsils
  • Frequent and loud snoring
  • Periods in which you stop breathing during sleep (sleep apnea)
  • Bleeding of the tonsils
  • Trouble swallowing chewy foods, especially meats
  • Cancer of the tonsils

Back in the 1980s, having your tonsils out was kind of a childhood rite of passage. It was a very common procedure and often parents had already experienced a tonsillectomy in their own childhood. Medical opinion has now swung in a different direction and there is a more stringent list of criteria that often needs to be met (as well as requiring parent consent / advocacy). For a balanced medical opinion, try this post by Christopher Johnson (a pediatric intensive care physician) .

What is tonsil grading?

Surgery is most likely to be recommended if tonsils are consistently swollen at Grade 3 or Grade 4 coupled with other complications (such as snoring and/or sleep apnea).

What are the 4 grades of swollen tonsils

What are the 4 grades of swollen tonsils?

Basically tonsils are graded based on how much of the airway they block.

  • Grade 0 = tonsils are within the the tonsillar fossa
  • Grade 1 = tonsils obstruct 0-25% of oropharyngeal airway
  • Grade 2 = tonsils obstruct 26-50%
  • Grade 3 = tonsils obstruct 51-75%
  • Grade 4 = tonsils obstruct 75%

What are the possible side effects of swollen tonsils?

  • Fever / temperature. Keep in mind that children can react in their own individual ways – they may keep getting low grade temperatures instead of a fever.
  • Runny nose and congestion (as well as the sore throat).
  • Difficult or painful swallowing.
  • Swollen and tender glands (lymph nodes) on the sides of the neck.
  • Bad breath.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Tiredness and headache.
  • Stomach upset or pain.
  • Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and/or snoring (due to enlarged tonsils blocking the airways). Obstructive sleep apnea. The swollen tonsils and/or adenoids can intermittently block airflow. It sounds like your child is silent and then there’s a big noisy sucking in of air.
    • In Miss 2 it can be so loud that I can hear it through her closed bedroom door and can sound like something’s fallen off a shelf and hit the floor! It’s a crappy and frightening thing as a parent that can result in just sitting with them in the dark either to check that they are breathing or to give them a gentle nudge to help them breathe again. If you’ve spent time with them hooked up to an oxygen saturation monitor then you’ll be familiar with what a stark difference there is between their oxygen levels when alert and upright versus lying prone to sleep.

  • Fatigue. They might seem like they’re getting enough hours of sleep but in reality the quality of sleep is poor because their body is struggling to get enough oxygen through the night. It’s a bit like starting each day on a half tank of gas.
  • Developmental delays. Sleep is critical for young children. During those early years, they are rapidly growing and learning. They need sleep to focus during the day; to have time for their brain to make connections between all the things they have learned or experienced; and their brain releases a growth hormone while they sleep. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can make it harder for them to stay on track.
  • Behavioural difficulties. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can result in daily misery that they don’t know how to express.

Keep in mind that young children (i.e. toddlers) may not be able to describe their symptoms to you and it may not even occur to them to do so (especially if they chronic health issues). They may also be confused by referred pain; the ears and throat share nerves (as well as being linked by eustachian tubes) so they may say their ear is sore when the infection is actually in their throat. Another possibility is if they keep exhibiting teething type behaviour well after all their teeth are in (i.e. chewing on fingers or a dummy constantly, lots of drool) combined with a temperature and bad breath – the cause may actually be their tonsils!

What does surgery (a tonsillectomy) involve?

Surgery will normally take place at a hospital (probably as an outpatient). The doctor will review medical history in advance and make recommendations about pausing medications. You will normally be advised not to take anti-inflammatory medications within 7 days of surgery. They will also discuss post-operative pain medication.

The day of the surgery will involve a period of fasting; food or water won’t be permitted because they can impact the anesthetic. It’s a good idea to have family support and a game plan of how to distract your child; an older child may understand why they can’t eat but a toddler is likely to just focus on the fact that they are off routine and they are HUNGRY!

During surgery, your child will be under a general anesthetic. The surgeon will enter through the mouth and the tonsils will be removed with an electrical cauterizing unit.  You can watch videos of surgery on YouTube but they can be a bit difficult to stomach; I preferred this video of a digital tonsillectomy surgery.

adenotonsillectomy

Adenoids and tonsils

Often the adenoids will be removed at the same time as the tonsils (if they are also swollen); this is termed an adenotonsillectomy. Click here for information about the adenoids.

What happens after surgery?

Depending on the age of your child, they may keep them in the hospital overnight for monitoring or they may go to a recovery room and then go home the same day. You should be given a pamphlet with information about post-op care (i.e. like this tonsillectomy guide).

Your child may feel quite groggy and tired for the next few days and also have some nausea; vomiting once or twice is normal but contact your doctor if vomiting persists.

A light, cool diet for the next few days is generally recommended (avoid hot liquids or spicy food) but doctors will often recommend that children eat whatever they want – the abrasion from bread or crackers will actually help to clean the area. (That’s not to say there won’t sometimes be screaming pain because a sharp cracker edge has just struck the surgical site).

Some doctors will prescribe antibiotics. They will normally be prescribed painkillers (like Pammol and Tramadol) and anti-inflammatories (like Nurofen); if your child won’t take the fully funded options consider buying over-the-counter replacements (for kids) that have been flavoured.  It is important to keep on top of their medication (including waking them up around the clock for a few nights) as the pain is severe; it will often peak somewhere around around Days 5-9 due to the way the membranes heal and can be excruciating.

It’s important to keep them rested and hydrated – even if this means just getting small regular sips of water, lemonade ice-blocks, or melty ice=cream into them; overall, the fluids are more important than food.

Common side effects will include:

  • Swollen tongue
  • Bad breath (like a hyena!)
  • White coating on the tongue
  • White scabs over the tonsils

Your doctor will talk you through potential complications and when to seek immediate medical care – i.e. if bleeding occurs (it can be life threatening); they may be able to resolve with medication or surgery may be required.

They need lots of rest for two weeks to promote healing and will be off school during this time due to the risk of infection.  They will also generally have several weeks off sports, exercise, and swimming.

Keep in mind that removing tonsils may only be one part of a wider treatment plan. If the chronic inflammation was linked to allergies then you will still need to work with a doctor to create an ongoing allergy treatment plan.

Home Remedy Porridge for sore throats and enflamed guts

Home Remedy Porridge

Home Remedy Porridge with Slippery Elm

I’ve just been posting about how Miss 2 and I were rushed to hospital by ambulance – her with croup and me with gastro. This is a great recipe for helping your toddler (or adult) to eat when they’ve been vomiting, had diarrhoea,  have a sore throat, have food allergies, or have reflux. It’s also a useful recipe to try after surgery, i.e. for removing adenoids or tonsils. It also pairs well with the rehydration tonic.

Slippery elm can  help relieve inflammatory bowel conditions so it’s also useful for

  • Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

You may also want to try this as a baby food if your baby or toddler needs to be gluten free.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Quinoa Flour
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Brown Rice Flour
  • 1 cup Rice Milk
  • Optional: 1 tsp Slippery Elm
  • Optional: boiling water
  • Optional: Maple Syrup

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  1. Mix everything in a pot and cook over high heat (stir regularly).
  2. Bring it to a boil and then turn down low. Keep stirring regularly and add more liquid (either rice milk or boiling water) to keep a good consistency.
    • If you have an upset gut then it’s best to include the slippery elm. The slippery elm absorbs water so you will need to slowly add liquid while the porridge is cooking.
  3. Cook for approximately 5 minutes.
  4. Serve plain or as you generally like your porridge. I like this with a little maple syrup stirred in.

How to make a rehydration electrolyte drink at home (for sports or sickness)

Failsafe Rehydration Therapeutic Tonic

Failsafe Rehydration Therapeutic Tonic

I’ve just been posting about how Miss 2 and I were rushed to hospital by ambulance – her with croup and me with gastro. This Failsafe Rehydration Tonic is from Sue Dengate’s book about understanding food. It’s an easy to make Gastrolyte style solution to rehydrate after vomiting, diarrhoea, or when you’ve been too sick to eat. It’s a handy recipe to have for both adults and sick kids! It can also be used for fitness and wellness reasons after training or after sports – it’s much better for you (and cheaper) than commercial drinks that are packed with preservatives and artificial colours.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre boiled water
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

 

Directions

  1. Mix well.
  2. Sip regularly.

What is croup and how does it effect toddlers?

What does croup look like in toddlers?

What does croup look like in toddlers?

Croup is a viral illness in young children which causes narrowing of the upper airways. Croup is often a mild illness but can quickly become serious, so do not hesitate to get medical help.

The funny thing about croup is that it’s like the vampire of toddler illnesses. During the day it may not have a visible impact beyond your toddler eating little (and lets face it sometimes they do want to live on air and crayons) and sounding hoarse.  Daytime clues to croup might be largely losing one’s voice, eating little, a sensation like a slight obstruction in the throat, difficulty swallowing, and a mild temperature.

Toddlers have softer windpipes than older children so it’s often when they lie down to sleep that the narrowed airways will become more apparent. Their breathing may start to wheeze and become progressively more of a struggle; it can also cause a strange cough (stridor). What does a croup cough sound like in a two year old? It sounds a bit like a lion purring or a seal bark; personally I think stridor sounds most like a lion coughing up a fur ball.  The animal metaphors might sound cute but the cough can be so loud that it’s enough to travel between rooms and wake you up at night; it can also be frightening if it’s the first time you’ve heard it and you have no idea what it means!

For many children, croup will be a mild illness (which can recur) and which can be treated at home. For others, they need to see a doctor or require urgent medical care. In New Zealand there is a registered nurse available 24/7 to provide free health advice on Healthline (0800 611 116); they can help assess your child and advise whether to ring for an ambulance or wait to see a doctor the next morning.

Personally, I think that croup is worse for children that have allergies. In fact, as well as viral croup, there is also a form of spasmodic croup which may be caused by Gastric Reflux Disease (GERDs) or by allergies. I’ve also read blog posts from other allergy families where croup has become a recurrent problem for their toddllers.

For us, it involved night time difficulties with breathing and a croup cough. On ringing Healthline, I was advised to ring emergency services. A triage nurse did an assessment over the phone and dispatched an ambulance.  We spent the night in the Emergency Ward as she required oral steroids, monitoring for fever, and to remain semi-upright to provide relief for airways. Recovery at home took time, monitoring of airways, and a largely liquid / soft foods diet for a few days.

I continue to feel that croup can be a much more serious illness for families with medically fragile children – including food allergies, airborne/environmental allergies, asthma, and reflux. Doctors will most commonly look for croup in babies and very young toddlers but plenty of allergy families have shared that their children have continued to have viral croup up to age 10!

NOTE – Thank you to all the readers that have shared their stories with me!

If you’re familiar with what a croup cough sounds like then do advocate on behalf of your child for medical care if it’s needed – you’re the one awake in the wee hours of the night hearing it (and they may not have the cough during the day)!  Don’t hesitate to ring for an ambulance at night if your child is struggling to breathe!

It’s worth investigating what charges there are for your local ambulance service and if they have a subscription service. If you live in New Zealand, it’s around NZD$90 for each medical emergency (non-ACC) call-out of a St John’s ambulance but you can get an annual ambulance subscription for the whole household for NZD$65 per year.

What are adenoids and why do they need removing? (What is an adenoidectomy?)

What are adenoids?

What do swollen adenoids look like?

What are adenoids?

Adenoids are soft tissue located located behind the sinuses; they are part of the body’s lymphatic system (so are tonsils). When they are working properly, they help to recognise bacteria and viruses entering through the nose and produce white blood cells to fight off infection.

Adenoids are particularly useful during early childhood while the body is still encountering new bacteria and viruses for the first time and building up the immune system. Doctors tend to consider them most useful up to age 7; in adolescence they begin to shrink and by adulthood they can practically disappear.

Why do adenoids needs removing?

Sometimes in childhood the adenoids swell and stay swollen. This can be due to frequent infections, due to a chronically over-active immune system (i.e. in an atopic child there might be ongoing aero-allergens and food allergies), or for reasons unknown.

This swelling is particularly problematic the younger the child is because their airways are so small to begin with! Also, swollen adenoids often aren’t the only problem. Look at the picture above and imagine that there is also swelling in the nasal passage (swollen turbinates) and that there are also swollen tonsils in the throat – that can result in a highly miserable toddler!

What are the possible side effects of swollen adenoids?

  • Obstructive sleep apnea. The swollen adenoids can intermittently block airflow. It sounds like your child is silent and then there’s a big noisy sucking in of air.
  • Snoring and heavy mouth breathing.
  • Snotty / blocked nose.
  • Repeated ear infections. The swollen adenoids can block the Eustachian tubes and prevent fluid draining from the ears to the throat.
  • Blocked ears meaning that everything sounds a bit like it’s underwater.
  • Blocked nose meaning a deadened sense of smell. This can also impact their ability to taste foods.
  • Sinus headaches / pressure (in conjunction with blocked nose).
  • Sore throat and/or difficulty swallowing.
  • Fatigue. They might seem like they’re getting enough hours of sleep but in reality the quality of sleep is poor because their body is struggling to get enough oxygen through the night. It’s a bit like starting each day on a half tank of gas.
  • Developmental delays. Sleep is critical for young children. During those early years, they are rapidly growing and learning. They need sleep to focus during the day; to have time for their brain to make connections between all the things they have learned or experienced; and their brain releases a growth hormone while they sleep. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can make it harder for them to stay on track.
  • Behavioural difficulties. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can result in daily misery that they don’t know how to express.

Why didn’t the doctor identify this earlier?

Your normal doctor (a GP) and even a paediatrician can’t see that the adenoids are swollen. You need to be referred to the Ears-Nose-Throat clinic at your local children’s hospital. They will be able to look in their nose and throat during the initial visit and then may request a facial x-ray and/or CT scan for confirmation. They may also monitor the adenoids over a few visits in order to confirm that they are chronically enlarged and not temporarily swollen due to infection; they may also try medications for a few months to see if these help.

It can be a bit like diagnosing the wind – you can’t see the wind but you can see the effects of the wind. You may even have the referral because of something unrelated (like repeated ear infections) and as a result of that find out that the adenoids have been swollen all along.

What does surgery (an adenoidectomy) involve?

Surgery will normally take place at a hospital (probably as an outpatient). The doctor will review medical history in advance and make recommendations about pausing medications. You will normally be advised not to take anti-inflammatory medications within 7 days of surgery. They will also discuss post-operative pain medication.

The day of the surgery will involve a period of fasting; food or water won’t be permitted because they can impact the anesthetic. It’s a good idea to have family support and a game plan of how to distract your child; an older child may understand why they can’t eat but a toddler is likely to just focus on the fact that they are off routine and they are HUNGRY!

During surgery, your child will be under a general anesthetic. The surgeon will enter through the mouth and the adenoids will be removed with an electrical cauterizing unit. You can watch videos of adenoidectomies (like this one); they aren’t pleasant to watch but it can be useful to help you understand what will happen.

What happens after surgery?

Depending on the age of your child, they may keep them in the hospital overnight for monitoring or they may go to a recovery room and then go home the same day.

They may feel quite groggy and tired for the next few days and also have some nausea; vomiting once or twice is normal but contact your doctor if vomiting persists.

A light, cool diet for the next few days is generally recommended (avoid hot liquids).

I’m sure my parents don’t have fond memories of me having my tonsils out when I was 4. I still remember staying overnight in the hospital! Mostly my memories are positive ones due to the fact that I got to spend a week lording it over my baby brother that I got to eat jelly and ice cream. No memory of the pain remains but the joy of those unexpected treats has lasted decades!

They will prescribed antibiotics and some light pain relief. They need lots of rest for 4-5 days to promote healing but the good news is that it is a much faster heal time than for having tonsils removed. They will also generally have 7-10 days off school and 3 weeks off sports, exercise, and swimming.

They will generally have post-surgery check-ups; your doctor will talk you through potential complications and when to seek immediate medical care.

They may have nasal stuffiness for a few months after surgery and may need nasal drops. Snoring may continue for several weeks after surgery (and may temporarily get louder). Their voice may temporarily change for a few weeks to a few months!

Keep in mind that removing the adenoids may only be one part of a wider treatment plan. If the chronic inflammation was linked to allergies then you will still need to work with a doctor to create an ongoing allergy treatment plan.

Looking for more information? I read through a wide number of sites  and this was the one I found most useful.

Can soybean oil and soy lecithin trigger an allergic reaction?

health-question

I’m drafting this post late one night in the hot muggy dark when I should be sleeping, would rather be sleeping, because I’ve spent the past hour awake and unable to successfully switch off. I think it’s because my brain is still percolating on today’s research and trying to fit it in with all of the other health-related research of the last few months; it’s rather like trying to put together one of those large jigsaw puzzles where you only have a vague idea of the expected outcome because you’ve lost the lid to the box which has the finished picture.

If you, or a family member or loved one, has been diagnosed with a soy allergy then you’re probably familiar with the phrasing that “the vast majority” (emphasis on the air quotes) of sufferers will not experience an allergenic reaction to soybean oil or soy lecithin. This does then rather prompt the question of, ‘Why not?’

What is Soybean Oil?

This oil is incredibly widely used worldwide. In the USA particularly it is apparently the most widely used edible oil taking up 55% of the market share in 2014. It’s cheap to obtain (because it’s grown year round in many countries as livestock feed), doesn’t have a lot of inherent flavour, and is proven to be highly adaptable and stable for uses within the food industry.

This is problematic if you’re allergic to it because it can appear in anything from dried fruit (like sultanas), to peanut butter, to cookies, to non-dairy coffee creamers. Anything that contains undeclared “vegetable oils” becomes suspect because there is a high likelihood that part (or all) of that is soybean oil.

The soybeans are cracked, heated, rolled, solvent-extracted with hexanes, refined, and then may be further blended and/or hydrogenated (partially or fully). Some sites discuss health concerns about soybean oil purely to do with potential adverse health concerns relating to hexanes, hydrogenation, or trans-fats. I haven’t researched those sufficiently to have formed an opinion so I’ll leave that to readers to follow up on should they wish.

What is soy lecithin?

To make soy lecithin, soybean oil is extracted from the raw soybeans using a chemical solvent (usually hexane). Then, the crude soy oil goes through a ‘degumming’ process, wherein water is mixed thoroughly with the soy oil until the lecithin becomes hydrated and separates from the oil. Then, the lecithin is dried and occasionally bleached using hydrogen peroxide. (1) (2).

Soy lecithin is used as an emulsifier to help stabilize food products and prevent them from separating out into their component forms (like in chocolate or margarine). Sometimes it will be declared on food packaging in full (i.e. soy lecithin), other times there is simply an additive number; 322 is almost always soy, 471 often so.

Can soybean oil or soy lecithin trigger an allergic reaction?

That’s really the crux of the matter if you (or loved one) has been diagnosed as allergic to soy. I’ve seen the full gamut of opinion online and in published books.

Some sources will argue that the high heats used to produce soybean oil and soy lecithin denature the allergenic proteins; others argue that there are no soy proteins in these products (or so few that they can’t cause a reaction). Admittedly, some of these articles I suspect of having a commercial bias.

Some take the middle ground and say that “the vast majority” of people sensitive to soy will not have an allergic reaction and to discuss it with your medical specialist (which you should do).

Some argue that it is difficult to accurately test concentration levels of soybean protein in these products and that often there is no legal requirement to do so (or insufficient oversight for sufficient regulatory surety). For instance, one study in 2001 found that the level of proteins found in six lecithin samples ranged from 100 to 1,400 ppm (parts per million); that’s a big range even in such a small sample size. By comparison, the 2013 ruling by the FDA required that gluten-free foods contain less than 20 ppm (3).

There don’t seem to be large-scale studies into using these products to trigger IgE antibodies. Small studies publishing in 1998 seem to suggest that these can cause an allergic reaction but only in some people that are allergic to soy (4, 5). One (non-medical) article suggested that sensitivity to soy lecithin may be linked to gut permeability (i.e. the more damaged and inflamed the gut has become, the more susceptible one becomes to even the tiniest trace of soy protein).

Conclusions

Yes, it is possible to have an allergic response to soybean oil and/or soy lecithin. Miss 2 appears to be allergic to soybean oil and I have reason to suspect that soy lecithin may also be a problem. Anecdotally, I’ve read blogs by people that react to these and corresponded with others that have. Working out if you’re allergic to soybean oil and/or lecithin can be a lengthy and frustrating process that often comes back to food diaries, trial and error, and consulting with a medical specialist.

Part of the problem with these two products is the possible variations; one day a food product might contain sufficient ppm of soy protein to trigger a reaction and another time it might not. For instance, leaving aside questions of general health, take the following example:

One Friday night you go to the supermarket and purchase (A) ice cream and (B) ice cream cones; both of these products contain soy lecithin as emulsifiers.

  • How much soy protein is in the separate batches of lecithin in products (A) and (B)? What if one has 18 ppm and the other has 1650 ppm?
  • What percentage of each product is made up of soy lecithin? What if one product is 5% and one product is 0.5%?
  • How much of each product are you consuming? What if your ratio of ice-cream to cone is 4:1 ?
  • What if the only reason you have a reaction is because of allergenic loading; i.e. you’re not actually reacting to (A) or (B) but rather to the combined exposure as a result of (A) + (B)?

Maybe you react and maybe you don’t. Maybe you buy exactly those same products (from exactly those same manufacturers) a month later and you do react because one or more of those questions above has a different answer.

Final conclusion: Food allergies suck.

I feel like I should make some off-the-cuff remark like “Food allergies suck (but not as much as vampires)” just to lighten the mood but the reality is that they do. Kia kaha, stay strong.