THE BLOG

Beware of Online Medical Information

11/26/2013 12:31 EST | Updated 01/26/2014 05:59 EST

Four of my six grandsons are under the age of six, so you can imagine the viruses, bumps, scrapes and bruises that they encounter. Just last week, for instance, one had a finger that was red and puffy from a cut, another had a cough that sounded like thunder, another feverishly barfed the night away, while another woke up and told his mother he couldn't hear what she was saying to him!

For many of us, the medical advice found online seems like a pirate's chest of riches compared to what was around when parents had only Dr. Spock to consult, but that's not necessarily the case. "The reason is that much of what you read on the web and information shared through social media is sincere in its intent but generally strongly held personal opinion and conviction," writes Jeremy Friedman and Natasha Saunders, two Canadian pediatricians who co-authored, with Dr. Norman Saunders, a new book entitled The A to Z of Children's Health. Online information may be convincing, they write, "but not always in context, accurate, or even true."

As pediatricians at the renowned Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the co-authors wanted to make sure that the book they offered parents was comprehensive, contemporary, easy to navigate and understand and, last but not least, filled with information based on the latest scientific evidence or agreement among children's health experts. From acute abdominal pain to lice, from seizures to yeast infections, the doctors walk you through each condition, its symptoms, and, most importantly, tell you what you can do to help your child.

While the advice and information offered won't give you the confidence of a medical degree, it will provide a ton of reassurance -- and what parent doesn't need that! Okay, so you're no doctor -- but with a little support offered here you can learn when a headache is not just a headache, how to distinguish between a cold and flu in your child, or when a rash likely won't be soothed by a warm bath. This book will also help you with tips and strategies so that you can avoid countless and maybe unnecessary hours in your doctor's waiting room or, worse, in an ER.

And let's face it, your doctor, caring though he or she may be, is busy and may not have time to talk to you about how to stop your kid from climbing into your bed every morning at four (check out how to treat night awakening problems.) The book (filled with graphs, photos, sidebars and detailed illustrations) isn't just for physical symptoms: If you want to learn to manage temper tantrums, thumb-sucking or sibling rivalry, there's help here.

As a grandmother whose old Dr. Spock was chewed apart years ago by the family dog, the A to Z of Children's Health is a great go-to guide which addresses virtually every question any caregiver might have. You can check it out in an emergency (Scrotal swelling? This requires medical attention! Abdominal pain? It may be appendicitis) or on a need-to-know basis (Stuttering? Very common during the early vocabulary-building years).

To ensure that the guide could cover over 235 childhood conditions and illnesses in ages newborn to ten, the co-authors asked a dozen of the hospital's pediatricians (most of them also parents to young children) to contribute their knowledge, advice and experience to the book. The result is an amazing collaboration and a terrific resource for parents.

The co-authors believe that caregivers will find the answers to most of their questions -- "What is this? What causes it? and how should I treat it?" As well as a clear list of red flags that signify varying levels of urgency for which to seek medical attention. So the doctors are in and by your side if only in book form. 235 conditions and illnesses: I never knew there were so many ways for a child to be unwell!

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