Health As We Age: Teenagers

Adolescence can be a tricky time for many young people. While there’s certainly fun in growing up, the onset of puberty, along with academic and social pressure, can bring on a slew of health risks and conditions. While many common childhood aches and pains are still relevant for teens, it’s important to be familiar with conditions and risks that are common in teens.

Health Concerns for Teens

Before you know it, your pre-teen will enter his or her full-blown teenage years. While you still need to keep an eye out for things like cold and flu season, infections, and chronic conditions like allergies and asthma, your teenager will begin to gain the maturity to become guardian of their own health.

Encourage and reinforce healthy living practices like regular check-ups, good nutrition, exercise, and responsible self-care like taking medications as prescribed and good hygiene. Habits formed now will help your teen stay healthy as they mature into young adults.

Continued Puberty

Both boys and girls will continue developing through the puberty they entered in their late childhood/pre-teen years. Puberty will be different for each teen but the following outlines typical development.

Menstruation in girls typically begins between ages 10 to 16. Girls typically reach their full adult height by age 14 or 15. They will continue to develop breasts and rounded hips. Pubic hair typically follows the development of breasts and the uterus and vagina’s increase in size.

Boys enter puberty around ages 10 to 13. They typically grow quickest from ages 12 and 15 and continue growing in height until about age 16, though some male teens may not stop growing until their late teens or early 20s. During puberty, the penis and testicles increase in size and will start creating semen. Pubic hair will accompany the development of genitals. Muscle development will continue into their early 20s.

Along with physical changes, your teen may be thinking more independently and emotionally. They may want to focus on socializing with friends and romantic relationships. Mood swings and emotional behavior is extremely common. Do your best to support your developing teen’s emotions and respect that they may feel vulnerable and irritable at times due to an influx of hormones.

If your child is showing signs of irregular puberty like the early arrival of puberty (puberty symptoms before ages 6 to 8 in girls and age 9 in boys), meet with your family doctor. Also, make an appointment with your doctor if your teen isn’t showing signs of puberty by age 13 for girls and age 14 for boys. Finally, any unusual puberty patterns should be discussed with a doctor.

Acne and Skin Conditions

Unfortunately, acne and skin blemishes are a given for many teens as they go through puberty. Acne can start appearing on teens because of the increased production of sebum. Sebum is overproduced by the influx of hormones. Teen acne typically occurs in the T-zone and center part of the face. 

Acne can be an emotional and sensitive topic for your teen. They may feel self-conscious about their appearance or fear judgment from peers. Reassure them that is an extremely common condition and that they are not alone among their peers. Offer to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist and let your teen discuss their concerns about their acne with a doctor.

Encourage your teen to practice general good skin care routines, like washing make up off thoroughly each night before bed and washing acne-prone areas of the body with a salicylic acid-containing body wash after working out or participating in sports. More severe acne should be discussed with a dermatologist who may recommend over-the-counter products or prescribe medication to treat breakouts. 

Meningococcal Disease

The number of recommended vaccinations decreases as children grow. By the time your child enters their late teens, they should be caught up on most childhood vaccines. However, there are still a few important boosters and vaccinations your teen may need. Among these is the meningococcal vaccine. This vaccine treats meningococcal disease, which is a bacterial disease that is easily spread through saliva or spit. If untreated, the disease can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meningococcal disease is not common in the United States, but young adults and teens are at an increased risk.

Some teens may have had the meningococcal conjugate vaccine around age 11 or 12, but it’s recommended that teens who had that vaccine before age 16 get a booster of the vaccine for protection. Since the disease is easily spread in close quarters, many universities require students living in dorms or campus apartments to receive the vaccination to be approved for lodging. If you have a teen who is planning on attending college after high school, it’s best to make sure they have their meningococcal vaccine before enrollment. Speak with a doctor about their recommendation for your teen.

Mononucleosis

It seems like everyone can name a friend who has had mono (sometimes called the “kissing disease”) in high school. Mono, or mononucleosis, is an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that is extremely contagious. Mono can be spread through kissing but is also easily spread by sharing drinks, utensils, or coughing. Children can get mono, but it is most common among teens.

Symptoms of mono can include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands and spleen

A test called a monospot is required to determine if your teen has mono. Steroids are sometimes prescribed to treat mono, but rest, avoidance of contact sports, hydration, and ibuprofen are usually recommended as treatment.