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The line between safety and panic

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POSTED: June 3, 2014 2:00 p.m.

For months on end in 2013, my daughter had a chronic, rough-sounding cough, severe chest congestion and back-to-back bouts with viruses and infections. To rule out serious illnesses and conditions such as pneumonia, childhood asthma and cystic fibrosis, we saw multiple doctors and specialists, one of whom — a pediatric pulmonologist — sent my then-20-month old toddler for a chest X-ray. Thankfully, it was clear.
As it turns out, Reese, now 2, just has bad allergies, an unrelenting post-nasal drip problem and “sensitive lungs.” Frequent doses of children’s Claritin and an occasional puff on an inhaler have done wonders for her. From mid-January through mid-May, my daughter went four entire months with no illnesses — a record for our family.
My husband and I were happy our beautiful, lively little girl was finally healthy. All was well ... until I got a hold of a copy of “Parents” magazine last month. I read an article and learned that having x-rays slightly elevates the risk of developing childhood leukemia. And then I flew into a tailspin.
Alarmed, I combed medical websites, read more articles and Googled statistics. As it turns out, the correlation has only been made in children who’ve had three or more X-rays. Still, the study in which this link was discovered makes me uneasy.
I relayed my concerns to my mother-in-law, who visited us last weekend. She has successfully raised three healthy children and now helps out as much as she can with her five grandchildren. She assured me that Reese is fine and made a few other points to assuage my fears.
My mother-in-law noted with a laugh that it’s a wonder she and her siblings turned out OK. Her family lived in rural Louisiana, she said, where crop dusters routinely flew over their un-air-conditioned house, sending chemicals drifting in through the open windows. Furthermore, women 60-70 years ago didn’t know it wasn’t OK to smoke and drink alcohol when they were pregnant. So they did.
Even as recently as the 1980s and 90s, most parents were OK with allowing their children to watch a few hours of television per day. Medical professionals now recommend no TV-watching whatsoever for children younger than 2, and those older than 2 should watch no more than one hour per day. Too much television now is associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart problems, not to mention it’s bad for developing brains.
Parents 30 years ago didn’t know that food coloring was harmful. Although our parents wouldn’t allow us much sugar, my sister and I sometimes enjoyed cherry popsicles, Kool-aid and colorful breakfast cereals. As it turns out, certain food dyes have been linked to allergies, hyperactivity and even cancer.
Other childhood staples in our home were hotdogs and sandwiches made with cold cuts. You guessed it — that was a bad idea. Cured meat products contain nitrates and nitrites, chemical compounds that supposedly are associated with increased cancer risks. Because of this, I rarely let Reese eat any meat that is not organic, and the package must specify, “contains no nitrites or nitrates.”
However, my mother-in-law’s comments stuck with me. Are parents these days overly cautious, restrictive and obsessed with avoiding any and everything that makes us even the slightest bit uneasy? Have we taken it too far?
My mother-in-law does have a point: My husband and I — and our siblings — did and ate things that would make today’s moms and dads cringe (myself included), and we lived to tell about it. In fact, we’re all just fine. Whether we’ll still be fine 10 years from now or even tomorrow remains to be seen, but for now, we’re healthy and happy.
I don’t think it’s that parents are just generally more paranoid now than they were 30 years ago. I think that we’re just more aware of risks these days and, once you know about said risks, it’s hard not to modify your behavior to avoid them.
Overall, though, the risks themselves probably aren’t any greater than when I was young. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start buying hotdogs or bologna any time soon.

 

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