Your frequent questions answered by the experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital

Is it necessary to get a vaccination for chickenpox? I've always heard it's more effective if your child actually catches it because then they'll have immunity for life.

There are many reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Nationwide Children's Hospital recommend vaccination against the chickenpox, an illness caused by the varicella virus.

Although the majority of children have a mild illness when they contract chickenpox naturally, serious complications can arise. The disease usually produces many painful and itchy blisters. These can lead to scarring and serious secondary infections of the skin from bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Before use of the chickenpox vaccine, there were about 100,000 annual hospitalizations of children for varicella-related illnesses. These included severe skin infections, brain swelling (encephalitis) and severe pneumonias. In addition, there were between 100 and 150 deaths in previously healthy children from chickenpox prior to routine use of immunization.

Vaccination prevents these serious illnesses.

It is true that infection with natural viruses often results in superior immunity to the chickenpox virus.The length of protection from the chicken pox vaccine is not currently known, but ongoing studies show that patients vaccinated 25 years ago in Japan still have significant levels of immunity to the virus. The vaccine will grant immunity from chickenpox without the risks of serious complications from the natural illness, and therefore helps protect the safety of children.

I can't tell if my son may have seasonal allergies or something more severe like asthma. The symptoms of each seem so similar. What are the differences, and what is the treatment for each?

You are correct - a lot of common symptoms exist between allergies and asthma. Allergies are the result of immune over-response to something the person is "sensitive to."

Common symptoms include runny, stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and occasionally rash.

Sometimes allergic reactions are so severe that a person's throat may tighten, leading to difficulty breathing. Unlike previously mentioned symptoms, difficulty breathing is usually an emergency. Allergic reactions may be seasonal, or they may be year-round and result from triggers that are constantly present, such as dust and pet dander.

Asthma may or may not be allergic in nature, but it is always characterized by inflammation and swelling in the bronchial tubes (lungs). Because it constricts the airway and restricts breathing, all asthma severity levels are potentially life-threatening.

Non-allergic asthma triggers are irritants such as bad air quality, smoke or exercise.Parents may notice asthma flare-ups in response to weather changes or even if their child is laughing or crying.The most common asthma trigger for children is a viral infection.

Nationwide Children's Hospital's Allergy and Asthma Clinics have a range of coordinated services to determine which condition your son has and to determine an appropriate treatment plan. We offer consultations, allergy testing, comprehensive asthma management plans and allergy shots for all patients from birth through 21 years of age.

Our daughter, who is 13 and in the seventh grade, has had a tough time socially in school this year. It seems like a lot of her friendships are changing and she's getting left out. I'm worried that she may be getting depressed because she's crying more often but doesn't want to talk about things. What signs should I be looking for and, if they're there, what should I do?

Nearly 5 percent of children and adolescents suffer from depression at any time. The teen years can be especially difficult for girls. Negative peer interactions and academic challenges can add to normal self-esteem issues, contributing to high stress levels that can lead to the development of depression.

Signs that may indicate depression include reduced energy, sadness or irritability, social isolation, a change in concentration or memory, increases or decreases in appetite, weight, or sleep, and a loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. Physical symptoms may include chronic headaches or stomach aches, and some girls may begin self-injurious behavior such as cutting.

If you suspect your daughter is depressed, you should consult your primary care physician for a diagnosis and to determine appropriate treatment options. Best results are usually obtained from a combination of therapy and antidepressant medication.

Our licensed, trained professionals here at Nationwide Children's Hospital's Behavioral Health Services offer a wide range of comprehensive services to address the needs of children, adolescents and young adults through behavioral, psychiatric and psychological services. With the right treatment plan, your daughter can get through this difficult time successfully.

You may specifically request a referral from your primary care provider, or contact an NCH Behavioral Health intake worker at 614-355-8080.