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Childhood illnesses: Everything you need to know about common childhood illness

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Common childhood illnesses
Whether it's chicken pox, ringworm, scarlet fever or whooping cough, there seems to be an endless list of childhood illnesses that children can pick up.

And every common childhood illness produces a host of questions. How serious is it? Should I be worried? How long does it last? What if they don't get it?

Don't worry, because we've put together the most important facts for the most common childhood illnesses. Find out more...

Appendicitis

What is appendicitis?

Appendicitis is an infection of your appendix, causing it to swell up and fill with pus.

What are the symptoms of appendicitis?

Typical things to watch out for are:
  • stomach pain that gets worse over 24 hours
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • feeling sick and off food
  • high temperature
  • diarrhoea


  • What should I do if my child has appendicitis?

    Abdomen pain can signal a number of illnesses but any constant pain in a child's stomach should be investigated immediately. If you're worried, try called the NHS helpline number 111 and describe the symptoms to an adviser. They may suggest you go and see your doctor, who will do a check to see if it really is appendicitis. If it is, your child will need an operation to remove the appendix. It's quick and straightforward and has a short recovery time.

    How long does appendicitis last?

    The symptoms usually appear very quickly over a period of 24 hours. They need to be acted on very quickly.

    When could my child get appendicitis?

    It's most common in teenagers, but can occur at any age

    Chicken Pox

    What is chicken pox?

    A viral infection that produces a rash and spots.

    What are the symptoms of chicken pox?

    Typical things to watch out for are:
  • A rash, appearing as spots on body
  • Fever and ache
  • Feeling sick and a sore throat


  • What should I do if my child has chicken pox?

    See your doctor to diagnose it and then just keep them at home and hydrated. You can ease their symptoms with paracetamol to cool down their fever and try cooling gels on their spots. It's important not to let your little one itch their spots, if they need some relief try patting them instead.

    How long does chicken pox last?

    The worst of the rash is gone in around 7 days.

    When could my child get chicken pox?

    90% of kids have had chicken pox by the age of 15.

    Croup

    What is croup?

    A nasty cough caused by a viral infection to the throat.

    What are the symptoms of croup?

    Typical things to watch out for are:
  • A barking cough that sounds like a bit like a sea-lion
  • Breathing is difficult and sounds noisy
  • Runny nose and a sore throat


  • What should I do if my child has croup?

    The actual cough is very difficult to treat - make sure you lower their temperature with paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid, get your little one to drinks plenty of fluid and try cool air to ease the breathing.

    How long does croup last?

    The worst of it typically lasts 2-3 days.

    When could my child get croup?

    Most kids get it before they're 3 and very occasionally up to the age of 6.



    German measles / Rubella

    What is it?

    A viral infection that causes a whole body rash

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - Swollen glands
    - Spotty rash all over the body
    - high temperature
    - aching joints

    What should I do?
    Sit it out. Make sure you reduce any fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid, make sure your child drinks plenty of water. If anything seems unusual, see your doctor.

    How long will it last?
    Glands stay swollen for about 7 days and the rash begins near the end of this time and lasts for about 1-5 days.

    When will they get it?
    Rubella is a lot less common now, since the introduction of the MMR jab. It is most common in young children.

    Glue ear

    What is it?
    An infection that causes the ear to fill with a glue-like liquid.

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - Difficulty hearing
    - Mild earache
    - Slow development in learning

    What should I do?
    Your doctor can run tests to see if your child has glue ear. The initial treatment is then usually to watch and wait and be sympathetic to your child. Most cases go away without any need for surgery or other treatment.

    How long will it last?
    Symptoms only last a couple of weeks and hearing is back to normal within three months in 50% of cases and within a year in nine out of 10.

    When will they get it?
    70% of children get it at least once before they are four. It's more common in boys than girls.

    Hand, foot and mouth disease

    What is it?
    Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common infection that causes mouth ulcers and spots on the hands and feet.

    What are the symptoms?
    Symptoms usually develop three to five days after being exposed to the infection.
    - Mouth ulcers
    - Spotty rash
    - High temperature
    - Loss of appetite
    - Coughing
    - Sore throat and mouth
    - Tummy pain

    What should I do?
    There is no cure for hand, foot and mouth disease so just keep your little one at home and well hydrated until it passes. To relieve the discomfort of their mouth ulcers, get your child to gargle warm salty water and apply ulcer gel. It's also a good idea to eat soft, plain foods so as not to irritate their ulcers further.

    How long will it last?
    The infection usually passes by seven to ten days and there's not much a doctor can do. If however your child is showing signs of dehydration or there skin has become inflamed, hot and is discharging pus you should seek medical attention.

    When will they get it?
    It's most common in young children – particularly those under 10 – but can affect older children and adults as well.

    Impetigo

    What is it?
    Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection that causes sores and blisters.

    What are the symptoms?
    - Red sores, usually around the nose and mouth which burst to make yellow scabs
    - High temperature
    - Swollen glands

    What should I do?
    It's important to take your child to the doctors if you suspect they have impetigo as there are a few skin conditions that produce similar symptoms and the correct diagnosis is essential. Impetigo should technically go away on it's own, but fades much faster with antibiotics cream which your doctor should be able to prescribe.

    How long will it last?
    Without treatment impetigo can last up to three weeks, with cream it can reduce that time by a third.

    When will they get it?
    It usually effects young children but it can affect adults of any age.


    Measles

    What is it?
    An infection that causes a rash and a nasty illness

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - Fever and sore eyes
    - White spots in the mouth
    - Blotchy rash on the body
    - Diarrhoea

    What should I do?
    Just ease the symptoms, because no medicine cures the virus. Your child will naturally produce antibodies to fight the infection. Make sure you reduce any fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid and give your child plenty of water to drink.

    How long will it last?
    Most children are better within 7-10 days of getting measles - if it doesn't go away after this time, go and see your doctor.

    When will they get it?
    Measles is normally a childhood condition, although the MMR jab has made it less common. However, there has been an increase in outbreaks recently, possibly because some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children.

    Mumps

    What is it?
    An infection that makes the face and throat swell up.

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - Dry mouth, making chewing swallowing difficult
    - Fever
    - Swollen glands behind the ears
    However, many cases show mild or no symptoms.

    What should I do?
    Your child's body will naturally produce antibodies to fight off the infection. Keep your child away from others, as mumps is very infectious. Make sure you reduce any fever with paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid, make sure your child drinks plenty of water.

    How long will it last?
    Most children are back to normal within seven to 10 days.

    When will they get it?
    Immunisation means that mumps is now very rare. However, it is most common in young children.

    Ringworm

    What is it?
    Nothing to do with worms - it's a fungal skin infection.

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - A circular, red inflamed patch of skin
    - Your child is likely to itch

    What should I do?
    You can get an anti-fungal cream from pharmacies or else get a prescription from your doctor. It's very infectious, so don't share flannels or towels.

    How long will it last?
    Once the cream is used, it should clear up in around four weeks.

    When will they get it?
    It can happen at any age and is very easily passed on from one person to another, so keep the infected area covered.


    Scarlet Fever

    What is it?
    A bacterial infection that causes a bright red rash all over the body.

    What are the symptoms?
    Typical things to watch out for are:
    - Sore throat
    - Fever
    - Scarlet rash on the neck and then the body

    What should I do?
    Penicillin or other antibiotics will work on scarlet fever, although many children recover quickly, without the need for any medicine. As with any fever, give lots of drinks and try paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid to reduce the temperature. It's infectious, too, so keep your child off school.

    How long will it last?
    The rash usually lasts about 6 days

    When will they get it?
    Children of any age can come down with this, although it's far less common than it used to be.

    What if my child doesn't get it?
    Scarlet fever is rare in adults, so if your child avoids it, they're unlikely to get it when they're older.

    Slapped cheek syndrome

    What is it?
    A viral infection that's spread through water droplets in the air and usually causes a bright red rash on the cheeks.

    What are the symptoms?
    As well as the slapped cheek rash, there are some other initial symptoms that your child may experience.
    - Light pink speckled rash on the chest
    - High temperature
    - Runny nose
    - Sore throat
    - Headache
    - Upset stomach

    What should I do?
    Slapped cheek should go away on it's own without needing to see a doctor, but if you have been exposed to the illness yourself and you're pregnant you should call your GP.

    How long will it last?
    The rashes should usually fade within a week or two.

    When will they get it?
    A person of any age can get Slapped cheek syndrome but it's most common in children between the ages of four and twelve.

    Tonsillitis

    What is it?
    An inflammation of the tonsils that's usually caused by a viral infection or, less commonly, a bacterial infection.

    What are the symptoms?
    - Sore throat and pain when swallowing
    - Earache
    - Coughing
    - Headache

    What should I do?
    Tonsillitis can be very uncomfortable so if you suspect your child has it, it's best to take them to the GP straight away. If their infection is bacterial they should be able to take antibiotics which will speed up the healing process within a few days. To soothe your little one whilst they're at home give them lots of fluid and ensure they rest.

    How long will it last?
    Once treated with antibiotics the symptoms should subside within a few days, without treatment it can last up to ten days.

    Continued below...


    When will they get it?
    Tonsillitis is most common in children and teenagers, so they could get it at any point before approaching adulthood.

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