The Most Common Illnesses Children Face

Father taking care of sick child.

Our children are such a gift to us! Precious and adorable, they light up our lives with their sweet little faces and loving hearts. Unfortunately, they are also unbelievably germy. Any parent of a young child has no doubt had that horrifying moment when their cute little sweetheart rolls on the floor in public, picks up something off the ground and pops it right into his or her mouth, or licks a handrail. They seem determined to touch everything, and while this is just a natural part of childish curiosity, it’s also a great way to pick up the viruses and bacteria that bring on childhood illnesses. Add to this the fact that children’s immune systems are not as strong as they will be later, because they have not yet built up immunity, throw in some interaction with other children at daycare or playgroups, and it’s no wonder that some kids seem to just stay sick. It helps to know the facts about some common illnesses, so that you will know how to manage them, and which ones warrant a trip to the pediatrician. Here, we discuss some of the most common illnesses children face.

  • The common cold can strike kids about five times a year. The mild fever, congestion, sore throat, and cough that come along with it should be treated with fluids and rest, and if your child is uncomfortable, you can give children’s ibuprofen or acetaminophen if your pediatrician approves. It is best not to give a child cough and cold medicines, because it’s easy to give a child too much.
  • Little ones are most vulnerable to RSV. Respiratory syncytial virus is a common childhood illness that affects the lungs. Most of the time, it’s just a minor respiratory illness with cold-like symptoms like coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and fever. However, it can be extremely serious for young infants, preemies, children with compromised immune systems, chronic lung disease, or a congenital heart condition, as well as elderly adults. About 150,000 children are hospitalized each year because of RSV, so it is vital to call your pediatrician immediately if you notice your child wheezing, breathing quickly or with difficulty, refusing to drink, appearing lethargic, or starting to develop a bluish color on the lips and in the mouth.
  • Roseola also impacts the smallest kids. Sometimes, this illness is so minor that it is completely overlooked. For some children, though, it leads to a high fever, congestion, coughing, and a patchy rash that starts on the chest and spreads. Fortunately, it almost always ends quickly, and usually only occurs in those younger than two years old. If your child’s fever spikes or last longer than three days, seek medical attention. Otherwise, you can treat roseola at home with children’s ibuprofen. Roseola is contagious, so keep a child with this illness home until the rash is completely gone.
  • Gastroenteritis is commonly known as a stomach bug. Many different viruses can cause this illness, including norovirus, and it comes with vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Generally, there’s not much you can do except give some TLC and encourage the child to rest until it subsides, usually within a few days to a week. Give plenty of fluids because gastroenteritis can easily lead to dehydration.
  • The Coxsackievirus is also called Hand-Foot-Mouth disease. This virus, which occurs mainly during summer and fall, is extremely contagious, spread through touch, coughing, sneezing, and fecal matter. It is not particularly serious, but it is very uncomfortable, causing skin rash, fever, mouth sores, flu-like symptoms, and sometimes blisters on the hands and feet. There’s not much to do for a child with Coxsackievirus except to make him or her comfortable with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, with ice pops and non-acidic juice to ease the sore throat. Pay close attention, though, because kids often don’t want to drink due to the sore throat, and this can lead to dehydration.
  • Fifth disease is also called Slapped Cheek syndrome. Most common in children three and under, it causes a bright-red rash on the cheeks, and sometimes a mild fever, runny nose, and secondary rash on the torso. It’s very contagious until the rash erupts. It subsides on its own, but if your child develops joint pain, let the doctor know, and if you are pregnant and your child develops fifth disease, talk to your ob-gyn about the risks of complications.
  • Strep rarely affects small children. If a baby or toddler contracts strep throat, it’s typically because an older sibling has it. However, your child can also get strep throat through interaction with a child who has it, or even by playing with a toy an infected child has been using. Caused by the bacteria streptococcus pyogenes, strep can cause sore throat, fever, swollen tonsils, and stomach pain. Your pediatrician can run a strep test and provide your child with antibiotics.
  • Influenza is the official name of the flu. Having the flu is miserable, with symptoms like headache, sore throat, high fever, cough, and sometimes even vomiting or having diarrhea. Fortunately, you can greatly decrease your child’s risk of contracting influenza through the use of flu vaccines.
  • Conjunctivitis is commonly known as pink eye. It is extremely contagious, and spread through your entire household very quickly, causing redness, yellowish discharge, crusty eyes, and blurry vision. It’s very uncomfortable as well as contagious, and in young kids, almost always caused by a bacterial infection. Your pediatrician can prescribe antibiotic eye drops, and the child should be careful to wash hands and avoid sharing hand towels, wash cloths, pillows and blankets to avoid infecting others in your home.
  • Pinworms are the result of poor hygiene. If you’re unfamiliar with these parasites, and they sound disgusting to you because of the word “worms,” you are on to something. Unlike ringworm, which is a fungus, pinworms are actual worms that get into kids’ digestive systems when they don’t wash their hands. These nasty little bugs move down the digestive system and lay eggs around the anus, which causes itching. If you notice your child scratching his or her bottom, talk to your pediatrician. The doctor can give you a special tape to put on the area at night and bring back in to be analyzed for pinworms and their eggs. They can be treated with a dose or two of prescription medication, but you will have to wash the towels and bedding in hot water to completely eradicate them from your home.
  • Kids get more ear infections than adults do. In fact, an ear infection is one of the most common childhood illnesses. Caused by bacterial or viral infections, they cause ear pain, irritability, trouble sleeping, tugging on the ear, and a fever.
  • Bronchitis often follows an upper respiratory infection. Occurring when the airways in the lungs swell and produce mucus, bronchitis causes soreness in the chest, body aches, a sore throat, headaches, and fatigue. It’s typically caused by a virus, and the best treatment is rest, fluids, and sleeping with a humidifier in the room.
  • Sinusitis means a sinus infection. It’s caused when fluid builds up in the sinuses and allows viruses and bacteria to grow. It can be very uncomfortable, with runny or stuffy nose, headache, pressure or pain in the face, sore throat, cough, bad breath, and post nasal drip, but should resolve on its own.

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