Neutropenia in Children

January 28, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
feature image

If you find out your child or loved one has been diagnosed with a rare disorder or condition, it’s understandable to feel anxious and uncertain about what the future holds. It’s also understandable to want to learn as much as possible about the diagnosis, including the causes, treatments, and how to care for your little one.

While serious, Neutropenia is a manageable condition with multiple treatment options. The following easy-to-understand guide will give you a better understanding of this disorder so you can make the best care decisions for your family.

What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is a rare blood disorder where children have low levels of a vital white blood cell type known as neutrophils. These cells are produced in the bone marrow and help the body fight off harmful bacteria and prevent infections. When the body is unable to create enough neutrophils, it can cause serious health problems and lead to potentially life-threatening bacterial infections.

Types of neutropenia include congenital neutropenia, cyclic neutropenia, and chronic benign neutropenia. The type of neutropenia is dependent on the underlying causes, the severity, and the length and frequency of symptoms.

Causes of Neutropenia in Children

In cases of congenital neutropenia, the condition is inherited and results in a genetic defect that causes inadequate bone marrow production and neutrophil deficiency. Neutropenia can also be caused by the following factors:

  • Cancer, especially leukemia
  • Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Thyroid medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Infections, including chickenpox, tuberculosis, and hepatitis
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • Aplastic anemia

Symptoms of Neutropenia

It is possible to have neutropenia for some time without knowing it. The single biggest sign of neutropenia is an inability to fight off infections due to low neutrophil count. Specific symptoms of these infections can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing and congestion
  • Gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea
  • Urination problems, including dark urine and pain while urinating

Children showing these symptoms and/or not recovering from illnesses, should see a doctor as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment. Chronic or recurrent infections can be potentially life threatening for children no matter what the underlying cause is, so it’s critical to receive care as early as possible.

Diagnosing Neutropenia

After reviewing medical history and discussing symptoms, the primary step in diagnosing neutropenia in children will be a complete blood count, or CBC. This will determine if there is a lower-than-normal neutrophil count. Because blood cell levels can fluctuate, it will generally take multiple CBC tests to confirm a diagnosis of neutropenia.

The next step in the diagnostic process will often be a bone marrow aspirate where physicians obtain a small sample of bone marrow and bone marrow fluid. This can help determine the underlying type of neutropenia and how far along the condition may have developed.

Neutropenia Treatment Options

Treatment will generally depend on the type, severity, and frequency of neutropenia and related infections. Common options for treatment are:

  • Antibiotics: While antibiotic medication is often required to help patients fight off infections, overuse can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria, adverse side effects, and even decreased neutrophil production on a long-term basis.
  • Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Medication: This newer approach can encourage the bone marrow to increase production of neutrophils and balance blood cell counts.
  • Bone Marrow Transplant: This is a procedure where bone marrow is replaced with donor bone marrow material that can increase neutrophil production. Like other forms of surgery, bone marrow transplants are usually seen as a last resort treatment option for the most serious cases.

Preventing Neutropenia and Related Infections

While there is no way to prevent the underlying causes of neutropenia, particularly when it is congenital or related to a disease like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, it is possible to decrease the risk of chronic neutropenia-related infections. The following steps can help to limit infection risk:

  • Encourage a healthy, nutrient-rich diet
  • Limit exposure to harmful bacteria and contact with people who are sick
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
  • Have your child wear a mask, particularly in situations where they are in close proximity to others
  • Stay physically active, but avoid overexertion

Caring for a Child with Neutropenia

Children and families living with neutropenia, chronic infections, and related diseases will typically have long-term, ongoing care needs. This can include regular appointments for blood testing and treatment, special nutritional and dietary considerations, multiple prescription medications, and in some cases physical therapy and emotional counseling.

Families with already busy schedules may be challenged in meeting these care requirements while balancing other aspects of life. Pediatric home health services can be a key asset in these situations, acting as a trusted extension of your family to ensure your little one receives the attention and care he or she deserves. A home health professional can provide supervised care while ensuring a clean and safe environment, can help with medication administration and nutrition, and accompany your child to appointments, depending on your individual and personalized needs.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.