So having a baby is the most amazing thing, traumatic, but still amazing. You take this precious bundle of joy home from the hospital and everything is perfect. Perfect until the little one is unwell, and unfortunately being unwell is part of childhood, and caring for a sick child is part of being a parent.
Many illnesses are spread between family members, and from nursery or school. Some can be prevented by general hygiene and others from immunisation, but sometimes they are just inevitable.
Here is a list of common illness, along with symptoms and treatment:
It can be very worrying if your child has a high temperature; however, fever in itself is rarely harmful, and often clears up on its own. As a general rule, in children, a temperature of over 37.5 °C is a fever and this can be measured using a thermometer.
Most fevers are caused by infections or other illnesses. A fever occurs as it is helping the body fight the infection by stimulating the immune system.
You should contact your doctor urgently if your child:
-is under three months of age and has a temperature of 38 °C or above
-is between three and six months of age and has a temperature of 39 °C or above
-is over six months and shows other signs of being unwell, for example, they are floppy and drowsy or you are concerned about them.
If your child has a fever, it’s important to keep them well hydrated by giving them plenty of cool water to drink. Even if your child isn’t thirsty, try to get them to drink little and often to keep their fluid levels up. Depending on the age of the child, paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to help bring the temperature down.
It’s normal for a child to have eight or more colds a year. This is because young children have no immunity to different cold viruses. Gradually they build up immunity.
Most colds get better in five to seven days. Here are some suggestions on how to ease the symptoms in your child:
-Increase the amount of fluid your child normally drinks
-Saline nose drops can help loosen dried nasal secretions and relieve a stuffy nose.
-If your child has a fever, pain or discomfort, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. There are child and infant products that will state on the packet how much you should give children of different ages.
-Encourage the whole family to wash their hands regularly to stop the cold spreading.
-Nasal decongestants can make stuffiness worse. Never use them for more than two or three days.
Children often cough when they have a cold because of mucus trickling down the back of the throat. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there’s no wheezing, a cough isn’t usually anything to worry about. Sometimes giving honey in a drink can soothe the irritation. (Personally when my little girl has a cough I mix a little turmeric with honey and it seems to help cough).
If your child has a bad cough that won’t go away, see your doctor, a high temperature and breathless may indicate a chest infection. If this is caused by bacteria rather than a virus your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. Antibiotics won’t soothe or stop the cough straight away.
If a cough continues for a long time, especially if it’s worse at night or is brought on by your child running about, it could be a sign of asthma. Some children with asthma also have a wheeze or breathlessness. If your child has any of these symptoms take them to the doctor.
Although it’s upsetting to hear your child cough, coughing helps clear away phlegm from the chest or mucus from the back of the throat.
Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as colds or flu. Your child’s throat may be dry and sore for a day or two before a cold starts. Infant or child dosage paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given to reduce the pain.
Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days. If your child has a sore throat for more than four days, has a high temperature and is generally unwell, or is unable to swallow fluids or saliva, see your doctor.
Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a temperature. A child may pull or rub at an ear, but babies can’t always tell where pain is coming from and may just cry and seem uncomfortable. If your child has an earache but is otherwise well, give them infant or child dose paracetamol or ibuprofen for 12-24 hours. Don’t put any oil, eardrops or cotton buds into your child’s ear unless your doctor advises you to do so. Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. They will just get better by themselves.
Tonsillitis, an infection of the tonsils, can be caused by a virus or bacteria, but most cases are viral. Symptoms include a sore throat with red, swollen tonsils, pain on swallowing, fever, coughing and headache. The glands in the neck are often swollen too, and there may be spots of pus on the tonsils. It is most common in children aged five to 15. Infection is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing or picking up germs after shaking hands or touching. Treatment would be to see your GP for a throat swab to check if your child has a bacterial infection, which would need antibiotics. If your child has frequent and severe tonsillitis, your GP may suggest an operation to remove her tonsils. Paracetamol, ibuprofen, throat lozenges or throat sprays will help symptoms.
Croup is very common in young children, mainly in children under five years old. The inflammation is usually caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold, and it’s rarely serious. It affects the windpipe (trachea), the airways to the lungs (the bronchi) and the vocal cords (voice box). A child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and will make a harsh sound, known as stridor, when they breathe in. A blocked airway can also cause a hoarse voice and breathing difficulties.
You should take your child to the doctor if:
-your child is having trouble breathing
-you can easily hear your child’s noisy breathing, even when they are resting quietly
-your child’s breastbone sucks in when they breathe in
-your child has trouble swallowing
If your child’s lips go blue, seek medical attention immediately. Severe croup requires emergency medical attention.
It can be very concerning to see your baby or child having bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting and unfortunately it is a common in children.
Vomiting (being sick) usually stops within three days. Diarrhoea usually lasts five to seven days and stops within two weeks.
Diarrhoea and vomiting may be caused by many different things, including:
-a viral infection
-a stomach bug
-eating something you may have an allergy to
Diarrhoea and vomiting is more serious in babies than older children because babies can easily lose too much fluid from their bodies and become dehydrated. They may become lethargic or irritable, have a dry mouth, and have loose, pale or mottled skin; their eyes and fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of their head) may become sunken.
If they become dehydrated they may not pass much urine. They may lose their appetite and have cold hands and feet. It may be difficult to tell how much urine they’re passing when they have diarrhoea.
If your baby becomes dehydrated they will need extra fluids. You can buy oral rehydration fluids from your pharmacy, or get a prescription from your doctor.
Seek urgent medical attention if your baby is unwell and showing any of the following:
-not passing much urine
-vomiting has lasted more than a day
-you are concerned
With toddlers contact your doctor if:
-diarrhoea and is vomiting at the same time
-diarrhoea that’s particularly watery, has blood in it or lasts for longer than two or three days
-severe or continuous stomach ache.
Anti-diarrhoeal drugs (not prescribed by the doctor) may be dangerous, so don’t give these. Oral rehydration treatment can help, and your pharmacist can advise you about rehydration products available.
With children contact your doctor or go to your local emergency department if your child has:
-had six or more episodes of diarrhoea in the past 24 hours
-diarrhoea and is vomiting at the same time
-diarrhoea that is particularly watery
-diarrhoea that has blood in it
-diarrhoea that lasts for longer than two weeks
-diarrhoea and you are concerned
If your child has diarrhoea and vomiting there are a number of things you can do to help manage their condition.
-Encourage your child to drink their usual amount of fluids. Children lose fluids through vomiting so your child will require extra fluids and water is the best for them.
-Specially prepared children’s rehydration drinks can be bought from your local pharmacy. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
-If your child refuses rehydration drinks try diluting fruit juice or soft drink with water.
-Sports drinks and energy drinks should be avoided as a rehydration fluid option.
-Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water to prevent the spread of infection
-Clean surfaces – washing with detergent and water is a very effective way of removing germs from surfaces you have touched.
-Do not share personal items – your child should use their own personal items, such as towels, toothbrushes, flannels or face cloths.
-If your child has diarrhoea, organise a separate toilet to other people if possible and clean it with disinfectant after use.
-Do not take your child swimming until two weeks after their last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.
-If your child has diarrhoea or vomiting they should not go to school or day care for 48 hours after their last episode of either.
Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a virus, but can be bacterial too. It triggers vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains and sometimes fever. It’s spread by touching the hands of someone who’s struck down with the illness, from eating infected food or by swimming in water containing the germs. Always replace lost fluids and salts with oral rehydration fluids, which you can buy in sachets from pharmacies or on prescription.
See your doctor if:
- You see blood in your child’s poo,
-your child develops a fever or does not improve within a couple of days
- Your child passes six or more diarrhoea stools – or vomits three times or more – in 24 hours as young children can quickly become dehydrated.
Constipation begins once your bay is onto solid foods. To avoid constipation your child should be eating a healthy diet which includes fresh fruit and vegetables and a good daily intake of water.
If your child in constipated it can be very painful. They will have hard pebble-like stools, pain in the lower stomach and there may be blood in the nanny or underpants due to straining.
NEVER GIVE YOUR CHILD LAXATIVES unless advised by your doctor. These can be very harmful in the long term. Ensure your child eats food containing fibre (wholemeal bread, fruit, and bran cereals).
If your child is continually constipated see your doctor. There is a condition which prevent the proper contraction of the bowel wall due to a lack of nerve cells.
Chicken pox is a highly contagious viral infection causes fever, headache and a red rash before developing into itchy, fluid-filled blisters. Some children get away with just a few spots, but others get them everywhere, including inside the mouth and on the scalp. Infection is spread by inhaling droplets of the virus from the air, but also by direct contact with the blister fluids – perhaps by touching clothing that the blisters have rubbed against.
The incubation period for chickenpox is between one and three weeks. The most infectious time is between one and two days before the rash appears, but it continues to be infectious until all the blisters have crusted over.
Paracetamol will help with the pain and fever, Cool baths, loose comfortable clothes and calamine lotion can all ease the itchiness, sometimes an antihistamine may be required if lotions do not help (age dependant).
In most children, the blisters crust up and fall off naturally within one to two weeks.
Adults who have had chickenpox as a child may also get shingles later in life, as they are both caused by the virus varicella zoster.
My little girl recently had chicken pox, at first I thought it was a bite when I only saw one and we had been in the garden and then more and more spots appeared and I realised it was chicken pox. The poor little thing had them in her ear, scalp, private areas, in fact she had them everywhere and it was hard trying to stop her scratching them but you have to remember it does not last long and creams do help. When they scab over they can go almost black in colour, this is normal before the scabs falls off so do not worry.
Hand, foot and mouth disease
This is a viral disease which causes a mild, non-itchy rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Some children also develop mouth ulcers and feel unwell. Paracetamol may help with pain.
Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection picked up through close contact with a child with the illness, or by touching infected toys, clothes or towels. Small red spots appear on the face, especially around the nose and mouth, neck or hands. The spots often cluster or merge, blister, then form a characteristic golden crust. New spots can appear over several days or weeks.
The doctor can give an antibiotic cream and also oral antibiotics if your child feels unwell or has a fever. Keep kids away from school until all spots have crusted over, or for at least 48 hours after starting treatment. Make sure infected children have their own flannels and towels.
My advice to parents would be to keep an eye on your child, make sure they are eating a healthy balanced diet, make sure all the vaccinations are kept up to date and seek medical advice where appropriate, being your health visitor, pharmacist, general practitioner, hospital.