Tips for Managing Common Childhood Illnesses

When your kids get sick, it’s a worrying and stressful time for you as a parent and a horrible experience for your child. If they are very young, they won’t be able to communicate to you in words what they’re feeling, which makes the job of diagnosis that much harder. Most parents will say they would rather be experiencing the illness themselves than seeing their kids suffering, but even the most robustly healthy children will fall ill at some time. Therefore, you will inevitably have to cope with a sick child at some point. To make the experience less stressful, it’s sensible to be prepared, which means knowing the signs and symptoms of diseases, what illnesses you’re most likely to encounter, and what you need to do if you suspect your child is unwell.

Respiratory illnesses
Croup is caused by an infection in the upper airways that leads to a harsh, barking cough, most frequently heard at night. The sound of a cough is quite distinctive, so it’s worth listening to audio recordings to help you spot when your child is infected. Strep throat is a severe sore throat caused by the streptococcus bacteria. The throat can be inflamed, causing pain and sometimes dribbling, and there may be pus visible at the back of the throat. If the throat problem is accompanied by a red rash that starts on the body and spreads outwards, your child may have scarlet fever. This is a name that used to frighten parents in the days before antibiotics, but both these conditions can now be treated successfully. One of the most common respiratory diseases in babies and toddlers is a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can lead to bronchial inflammation and sometimes pneumonia. Symptoms are similar to a flu virus so your infant will have a fever, cough, and runny nose.

Ear infections
These are especially common in young children because of the size and position of the eustachian tubes connecting the throat to the ear. When a child has a cold, the tubes are more prone to becoming host to bacteria as inflammation causes the tubes to swell, leading to a build-up of fluid in the middle ear which provides an ideal breeding ground for germs. Infections can be very painful, and your infant is likely to be crying, rubbing at their head or ear, feeling sleepy but finding it hard to drop off, and may have a fever. If the trapped fluid becomes thickened and fails to disperse naturally, this leads to a condition known as glue ear. If your child contracts glue ear, your child’s hearing could be affected, and they may need to have the fluid drained.

Digestive system
Acid reflux is a problem many adults have to contend with, but it is surprisingly common in babies and children as well. It causes a range of symptoms including spitting up, vomiting, discomfort in the throat and stomach, difficulty sleeping, and trouble swallowing. You can learn more about the symptoms and treatments by reading this blog, which also explains the reasons why acid reflux, more correctly termed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs in the first place. Colic is another common problem for infants and is a pain in the stomach, most often caused by trapped wind or muscle spasms. It can be the cause of many a sleepless night when baby can’t sleep and won’t stop crying.

Skin diseases
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease causes a rash of blisters on the child’s palms, soles of their feet, inside of the mouth, and the buttocks. With such a specific pattern appearing, plus the likelihood of fever, diagnosis is usually straightforward. Slapped cheek disease, or fifth disease, causes a bright red rash to appear on the child’s face, hence the name. The rash may appear on the body and limbs as well, but by the time it is visible, the virus that has caused it is no longer contagious. Impetigo is common in pre-schoolers, causing tiny blisters that go on to form golden-colored crusts. It’s a bacterial infection so can be treated with antibiotics. Ringworm is caused by a fungus and results in the round, scaly patches on the skin that can cause hair to drop out. Anti-fungal preparations will treat the disease, but it is highly contagious so will spread easily to anyone who comes into contact with it. Staphylococcus infections are becoming increasingly common, causing skin lesions that look like bites, boils or sores. Also known as MRSA, these infections are resistant to many regularly used antibiotics, and are becoming a major health issue.

This can be viral or bacterial in origin, with the bacterial version being the most harmful. The disease causes inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and bacterial meningitis can quickly become very serious. Key symptoms that distinguish meningitis are a stiff neck accompanied by fever and headache. Babies and toddlers will show extreme irritability, but may suddenly become lethargic and hard to rouse. If you have any concern about meningitis, you should always seek medical help as soon as possible. There is a rash that appears on the skin when pressure is applied, which can be viewed by rolling a clear glass over the child’s skin. Although this is a clear sign of meningococcal meningitis, by the time the rash appears the disease may be at a more serious level, so don’t wait for the rash if you are worried.

Preventable diseases
Chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough used to be illnesses that were a part of growing up. Although for most kids they would just be unpleasant experiences, they can also lead to more serious health problems, but now, as long as your child has had their vaccinations, they will be protected. Influenza strikes every year and is familiar to most people from their own experience. Again, the distressing effects and possible risks of more serious complications can be avoided by making sure your child has a flu shot.

Most common childhood illnesses can be treated successfully at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and keeping your child’s temperature down. However, if the symptoms persist or there is any sign of a more worrying condition developing, always get expert medical advice.

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