The unfortunate fact of life is that kids get sick. Thankfully in most cases not seriously ill and looking on the bright side many childhood illness provide a stronger immune system. Winter tends to be a time for more illness with numerous viruses going around. As a first time mum I was a bag of nerves every time my oldest got ill. I would be down to the Doctor’s office with every sniff (pun intended!) of a bug. Years later and having probably experienced most of the usual bugs between my three (and in many cases a dose of each for each of them!) I thought I would share some basic facts about the most common childhood illnesses and how to spot them.Usual disclaimer applies! I am not a medical practioner and while below does outline these common illnesses please do see a medical practioner if you are concerned for the health of your child.
One of the most well know childhood illnesses, Chicken Pox is exceptionally common in kids. In fact it is so common that according to the HSE 90% of adults are immune due to the fact that they had it when younger. The illness begins with fever, stomach ache and general malaise before the signature rash appears. The rash is in the form of small blisters that eventually crust over and dry out.
Chicken pox is highly contagious from before the rash appears until all spots are crusted over. Of course the fact that it is contagious before the rash appears is what makes it almost impossible to quarantine someone with chicken pox before they have likely spread it to everyone they have come in contact with.
As a virus there is little that can be done but keep the child comfortable. There are a range of lotions and specialised creams on the market for chicken pox to prevent the itch of the blisters as they form and crust. There are also some home remedies that can help too – such as placing some oats in some tights or muselin material and running it under the tap to make a soothing bath.
Other symptoms can be dealt with through pain medication such as pediatric paracetamol (calpol is my brand of choice, or paralink if you prefer suppositries) or ibuprofen (nurofen liquid or suppositories).
In a few cases bacterial infection can occur and in these cases the child must see a doctor without delay if things are not improving or you suspect things have gotten worse.
There is a move to vaccination for kids against catching chickenpox (although certainly in Ireland it is not part of the standard vaccination schedule). For those that do catch it despite vaccination they will likely only get a mild dose.
Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
When my first child got Hand, Foot and Mouth disease I instantly started picturing scenes of dead cows being piled high during the 2001 outbreak of Food and Mouth disease in the UK. Thankfully, it is not to be confused with the disease that we are familiar with from cows – Hand Foot and Mouth disease is a common viral illness affecting young children.
There are a range of symptoms of the illness including fever, malaise and irritability, loss of appetite, sore throat and the characteristics sores or blisters that appear around mouth, on palms of hands and soles of feet.
As a virus there is little treatment but rest with pain relief – again pediatric paracetamol and ibuprofen. As there is loss of appetite it is important to keep your little one hydrated or if they will take them soft foods such as yogurt or puree fruit.
Fifth Disease, is a mild viral infection causing a low grade fever, headache and stuffy nose. It may appear to have passed when a rash appears. The rash starts on the face and often appears as red cheeks hence the alternative name of the illness – “Slap Cheek” syndrome.
While fifth disease can be relatively mild it can potentially be dangerous for pregnant women, particularly in the first half of pregnancy. In serious cases the foetus will not survive where a mother who is not immune has become infected while pregnant. Unfortunately I am well aware of these rare cases as a good friend lost her unborn baby in this way.
As with Hand Foot and Mouth disease, due to it being a virus treatment is by rest, maintaining hydration and yes, you guessed it paracetamol and nurofen.
Also known as “Sixth Disease”, as the sixth rash causing virus, Roseola features a very high fever as a primary symptom. The fever is usually after a mild respiratory illness with the high fever accompanied by irritability, loss of appetite and often swollen lymph nodes.
The fever will cease suddenly which triggers the second key feature of the illness – a rash, usually starting on the trunk but spreading quickly.
A key consideration with Roseola is to be alert for febrile convulsions which are associated with high fever.
Treatment of roseola is via controlling the temperature by use of pediatric Paracetamol and ibuprofen products as well as keeping the child hydrated.
Croup is caused by a virus and the main symptom is a “barking” cough, I always think it sounds like a seal. While it lasts about a week treatment mainly involves helping the child to breathe more easily includeing the use of steroid medication and nebulisers in many cases. Of course the usual pain relief should be used here – it can be painful on the chest with all that coughing and a general feeling of malaise which the pain relief can help.
There are some simple home techniques which can be helpful, such as running a hot tap and filling a room with steam for the child sit in for about 15 minutes also going for a walk in the cold air outside – a technique reserved for the winter.
Children fall ill very quickly. Often it is one of the above illnesses or other similar virus that just need time, rest and a little pain relief however it is important to remember that they can deteriorate quickly and bacterial infections can often be the cause also so any concerns should be raised with a medical practitioner without delay.