Just because a child is old enough for junior high doesn’t mean regular well-child visits should end. Dr. Michael Allred, in fact, specializes in well-teenager visits.
Dr. Allred, a family physician at Tanner Clinic Layton, offers the full scope of primary care from kids to adults, including maintenance of such disorders as diabetes and hypertension. He looks forward, however, to the time he spends with teenagers.
Often, the only time parents bring their adolescents into the doctor is for targeted needs, such as a sports physical.
But Dr. Allred recommends at least three general exams during the teenage years:
▸ Pre-teen, early adolescent
▸ Mid teenage years
▸ Later teenage years
“We still check to see if their growth and development is good or if vaccinations are up to date,” said Dr. Allred. “And, with older teens, we may talk about more adult themes, like pregnancy prevention and STDs.”
When Dr. Allred speaks with teenagers, he’s likely to touch on these topics:
“An adolescent is more likely to have problems with a safety issue than a health problem,” said Dr. Allred. “We talk about safety and school,” as well as practical matters, such as wearing a seatbelt or ensuring sports equipment fits.
He also talks to young athletes, especially those in girls soccer, about overtraining and the signs of overtraining, such as weak bones and the absence of a period. “If they’re training a lot and not eating well, it’s not healthy,” he said, “even though they think they’re healthy because they’re physically active.”
Growth and development
Just as a 5-year-old should align with growth and development charts, teenagers need the same kind of checks, said Dr. Allred. “We’re checking body mass index and growth charts.”
When weight is an issue, he said, “we have a conversation about making healthy choices and turning off the TV and getting outside.” The emphasis, he adds, is not dieting — “just healthy choices, like sitting down for family dinner every night instead of eating in front of the TV.”
Discussion often swings to such teenage issues such as acne and moles. Plus, kids often complain about aches and pains. “Sometimes,” he adds, “they just need reassurance that everything’s fine.”
A tetanus booster is due just as kids hit junior school. There are two non-mandatory vaccinations that Dr. Allred also recommends:
1. Meningococcal meningitis, or Menactra.
2. Cervical cancer, such as Gardasil, which can be administered to both boys and girls. Parents are becoming more open to this vaccination, which kills the human papilloma virus known to cause cervical cancer. “I find a lot less people refusing it, unlike several years ago,” said Dr. Allred.
Mental health issues
Dr. Allred talks about depression and anxiety with all ages of patients. But with teenagers in particular, he said, “It’s still a developing brain, so we focus more on counseling or seeing a specialist, if necessary, rather than jumping into medications right off the bat.”
Depression can also masquerade as other disorders. When teens visit his office for issues such as ADD or acting out, he said, “we sort through it and put the picture together more, and sometimes it’s more depression.”
When teenagers visit his office, “we talk about a lot of things,” said Dr. Allred. “But for the most part adolescents are healthy and a little reassurance goes a long way — we’re just making sure they’re using their common sense and staying up to date on their vaccines.”