We all know the health numbers to watch for as adults – like blood pressure, BMI, even eye sight. But when it comes to kids and numbers, what do you need to know so you can you watch them yourself at home? Elaine Cudnik, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Renown Medical Group – Pediatrics offers insight.
Let’s start with blood pressure. We all know 120/80 is the goal for adults, but the numbers are different for children. When it comes to kids and numbers, what is normal numbers for kids, and when should parents worry?
It’s important to know that blood pressure numbers before the age of 3 aren’t necessarily reliable. That is why blood pressure screening isn’t recommended until after age 3, unless there are medical reasons to support earlier testing.
Once screening starts, there’s an easy way to make sure your child is in the “safe” zone. For children, we typically focus on their systolic pressure, which is the top number in a blood pressure reading. You’ll take their age in years and multiple that by 2 and add 70. For example, for a 2-year-old, a reading of 74 is normal, and for a 10-year-old, a reading of 90 is normal.
It can be difficult to spot blood pressure issues in a child. You’ll want to watch for dizziness, fainting or if your child seems to be exerting more energy than their peers. Of course, if they ever complain of heart palpitations or chest pain, you want to have them checked out right away.
Height and weight percentiles are a big focus – especially in the early years. What should parents know about these numbers, and how can they monitor that as their kids grow up?
First and most importantly, don’t compare your child with the percentiles of other children. Parents often hear percentiles from other parents and think that’s where their child should be, and that isn’t the case.
As care providers, we’re actually looking at the trends for the same child rather than their percentile against the average. So, if your newborn started around the 25th percentile and is still there at 6 months old, that’s good. If we see a big change, for example, going from the 90th to the 10th percentile – that is a concern. Tracking these trends over time helps us evaluate rapid growth or weight loss for your child, to decide if environment or medical reasons may be having an impact.
As your child gets older, you can start to monitor their body mass index, or BMI, based on their height and weight. For children, a BMI of 5 to 85 is normal, 85 to 95 is considered at-risk, and over 95 is obese. These numbers alone won’t tell a care provider if something is wrong, but it will tell us we need to watch more closely. We may start conversations about diet and exercise, and if needed, do additional testing to evaluate family history and risk for certain health complications.
Eye sight and hearing screenings are another item to watch closely as kids grow. When can parents expect to see these tests for the first time, and when should kids start seeing a specialist?
At your child’s primary care appointment, we will complete screening tests during our normal well visits to decide if more testing is needed. In addition to these routine tests, the American Academy of Optometrists recommends vision screenings by an optometrist or ophthalmologist starting at age 3 and no later than age 5. Just like adults, kids should get their eyes checked once a year even if they aren’t experiencing any issues. If you begin to see issues or changes in their eye sight, go to a specialist right away.
For hearing, we complete universal hearing screenings at age 4. Again, this is a screening to evaluate for additional issues, and we encourage parents to take their kids in for an exam by an audiologist. If your child isn’t paying attention, starts to have failures in school or speech delays, it may be a sign of fluid behind the ear.
Keep in mind, ear infections as an infant are likely the greatest cause of hearing loss in children. Those symptoms include pulling on the ears, fever, pain persisting for more than 48 hours, and cough and congestion accompanied by pulling on ears.