Any parent can tell you that children are a magnet for sickness. Whether at parks, indoor play areas, daycares, and even regular old school, our children are constantly being exposed to something. And since they’re relatively new to the world, they need to develop immunity to everything. Sometimes, it seems like we pass months or years simply counting the weeks before the next cold strikes. No matter what your personal philosophy to germs and keeping clean, it’s impossible to shelter our little ones from all of it.
So when illness strikes, what’s a worried parent to do? Consult the Internet, of course! We’re just kidding (kind of); you should always go to your child’s pediatrician or other care provider if you’re truly concerned, and be wary of trying “home remedies.” But many common childhood ailments can be easily treated at home, especially when symptoms remain mild. Read on for a list of some issues that may crop up in the early years of parenting, with some ideas for how you can relieve your little one’s discomfort.
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To put it simply, asthma is a condition that causes breathing issues. It’s very common in childhood, and it tends to run in families. No one knows exactly what causes it; it may be genetic, and environmental factors may contribute. With asthma, the airways in the lungs get swollen and children can’t breathe properly. These “flare-ups” may be triggered by athletic activity, cigarette smoke, air pollution, or seasonal allergies. Kids may wheeze or cough or simply be short of breath. Fortunately, asthma is very treatable, and your child’s care provider can help you find the right combination of medicines to both provide immediate relief and to keep symptoms tamer over time.
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The dreaded seal-bark-cough. Croup is a nightmare for us all, and chances are good you know several parents who have made an ER visit or called 911 because of an attack of croup. But what causes it? Croup isn’t actually a specific illness so much as it’s a general infection of the upper airway. Swelling and inflammation cause that barking cough and a hoarse voice, and can lead to wheezing and breathing issues. Cold bugs that cause croup also usually bring fever and lethargy. The best cure? Croup can often be treated at home with steam and, weirdly, cold air. A nighttime walk or drive on a humid night can reduce inflammation, or you can run a humidifier and open a window. An additional option is to run the shower on hot and sit in the steamy room. Of course, don’t hesitate to visit urgent care if you’re worried; a steroid treatment can also open up the airways and calm the cough.
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Ear infections are pretty much a childhood rite of passage; you’d be hard pressed to find many kids in your social circle who haven’t been diagnosed at least once. The most common signs of an ear infection are tugging at the ears, trouble sleeping, and more fussiness or crying than is normal. An older child might complain of ear pain. Fever may or may not be present. Not all ear infections necessitate a trip to the doctor, but doing so may well give you peace of mind. Many doctors now advocate to wait before prescribing antibiotics, to see if the symptoms clear up on their own. Beyond that, manage other symptoms with OTC pain relievers.
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These red, crusty, itchy patches of skin seem to be getting ever more common, and mom groups everywhere are swapping the secrets of treating and eliminating eczema. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, and will often show up in isolated patches on the cheeks or joints (think insides of elbows or backs of knees). What causes it? Dry skin, ingredients in soaps or lotions, the weather, the child’s diet… the ideas and theories and solutions are seemingly endless. Some ideas for treatment: lukewarm baths with no added soap; regular application of a fragrance-free moisturizer; “free and clear” laundry detergent; loose clothes; an elimination diet to see if food is a contributing factor (dairy and gluten seem to be common triggers); an OTC cream or lotion. For more severe cases, a prescription steroid cream can do the trick!
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A mild fever and a stuffy nose. You think your child had just a normal cold, until a few days later when a rash appears on the face, spreading slowly down the rest of the body! Fifth’s disease is the common name for erythema infectiosum, caused by a parvovirus. It’s generally not contagious anymore once the rash appears. Fifth’s is most common in children under the age of 10, and is usually so mild that it barely requires any treatment. This is one where you just treat the symptoms (if needed): pain reliever to reduce fever, OTC ointments or creams for the rash.
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This is one of those viral diseases that is constantly being passed around daycares and preschools; it’s most common in kids under age five. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFM) causes rashy blisters primarily on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and in the mouth and throat. HFM is super contagious, spread by spit, boogers, poop, and general unwashed hands. Like so many childhood illnesses, the best thing to do is treat the symptoms as needed. Give pain medication to reduce fevers, cool drinks and foods to soothe the sore throat, and keep external blisters clean and uncovered.
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You thought it was just dry skin, those rough patches that formed around your little one’s mouth and under their nose after a recent cold. But their nose is no longer running, and the blisters still haven’t gone away. The cause? Perhaps it’s impetigo, a skin infection usually caused by a staph or strep bacteria. Impetigo is usually treated with an antibiotic, usually in the form of a cream or lotion, but occasionally as a pill or a liquid if topic treatment isn’t working. It may help to loosely cover infected areas, and to keep your child’s fingernails short to keep them from causing further damage by scratching.
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Does your child have little bumps on the backs of their arms or on their cheeks or thighs? Or do you? These “chicken skin” bumps are called keratosis pilaris, and they’re caused by an overproduction of keratin. They’re harmless, albeit a bit unsightly, and science has yet to determine exactly what causes them. But they’re pretty common, especially in youngsters. There’s no sure-fire way to get rid of them, unfortunately. The Internet at large theorizes that they could be diet-related (gluten is a favorite culprit), but no studies have yet backed this up. They are associated with dry skin, however, so moisturizers may help. And they’re also linked to a deficiencies in vitamin A and essential fatty acids, so supplementing those may help. Rest assured that they may well disappear as your child grows older, and even if they don’t, at least they’re not a true nuisance.
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Creepy crawlies in the hair are a nightmare for any parent with a kid in daycare or public school, but while lice are kind of annoying, they’re really not that hard to deal with if you take the time to do it right. These tiny, wingless creatures delight in long hair, and they lay their eggs right at the base of the hair shaft. You can often spot these “nits,” or the empty shell left behind after they hatch. Other signs of lice include scratching (lice bites itch!) and small red bumps or sores on the scalp. Lice are most commonly treated with special shampoo or lotion, OTC or prescribed, and the use of a very fine-toothed comb. Some parents may opt to cut their little one’s hair as part of this process, but it’s absolutely not necessary if you’re super attached to those curls! Be sure, too, to change the sheets and vacuum thoroughly.
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In recent years, Lyme disease has been gaining visibility. Lyme is spread by ticks, small insects that are found outside in certain parts of the country and which feed of the blood of animals and humans. If you know your child has been bitten, you can watch for symptoms. The earliest is a circular “bull’s-eye” rash that gets bigger over the course of days or weeks before eventually disappearing. After that may come more rashes, not necessarily near the area where the child was bitten, accompanied by tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell. Lyme can also cause dizziness and heart palpitations. Eventually, if undiagnosed and untreated, Lyme can cause arthritis, swelling and pain in the joints. Lyme is a tricky one, so be sure to notify the pediatrician if you suspect it! Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics usually results in great outcomes.
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Pertussis is more commonly known as whooping cough, and it’s a disease that most children are vaccinated against in early childhood. But it’s important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective, and that the efficiency of this one wanes with time; pertussis is often seen in kids over the age of 10 or 11 who no longer have strong immunity against it. It’s also seen in babies too young to be vaccinated. So know the symptoms! Pertussis starts off looking like a common cold, with a fever, runny nose, and a mild cough being the chief symptoms. After a week or so, though, that dry cough can change to coughing fits, which may or may not come with the “whooping” sound of its name. These fits may cause the child to have trouble breathing and turn red or even purple. If your child catches pertussis, it can be treated with antibiotics, although these are less effective if you wait until after the coughing spells have begun. At home, use a cool mist vaporizer and keep the air free of potential irritants (like cigarette smoke). Whooping cough sounds a little scary, but it’s very treatable in most cases.
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Pinkeye, otherwise known as Conjunctivitis, is a super-common eye infection that can be caused by a number of different bacteria and viruses. Most types are quite contagious, and since kids are notoriously terrible at washing their hands, pinkeye spreads like wildfire through schools and daycares. The biggest symptom? Eye discomfort. This could include redness, itchiness, and a gunky discharge, as well as swollenness and being sensitive to light. It’s generally recommended that parents take their kids to the pediatrician for proper diagnosis, but sometimes an advice nurse can diagnose it over the phone. Pinkeye is most commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops, although this is only effective if for cases caused by bacteria. A cool washcloth over the eyes can help further alleviate the discomfort, and some doctors advise offering pain medicine to reduce inflammation.
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Before you get grossed out, it’s important to remember that pinworms — tiny parasitic worms that live in the intestines — are surprisingly common, especially in school-age kids. Millions of people are infected with pinworms every year! They are contagious, and can easily spread from kid to kid in the right setting. The most common sign is an itchy bottom, especially at night, as that’s where the worms go to lay their eggs. Fortunately, once you figure out what the problem is, pinworms are super easy to treat. Simply get an OTC anti-worm medicine from your local drugstore, or ask your child’s care provider to prescribe one. Follow the instructions, change their bedding more frequently for awhile, and make sure they get better about washing their hands.
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Don’t let the name deceive you: ringworm is actually a fungal infection that causes a red, scaly rash. If it grows over time, it starts to look like rings, hence the name. Ringworm can feel itchy or it can burn or sting, and it may cause the skin to peel and flake. Ringworm can be spread from person to person, or it can be picked up in public showers or pool areas. A mild infection can often be treated with an OTC antifungal cream, while a more serious infection might require a prescription.Take any medication for the full time instructed, and make sure to keep the infected areas dry and clean!
This disease is most common in kids under the age of two, and the vast majority of children have been exposed by the time they enter kindergarten. Roseola is one illness that parents might not recognize at first; it starts with a sudden, very high fever that can last up to a couple of days. You know it’s Roseola when the fever breaks and suddenly your child breaks out in a rash on their back, chest, and stomach. It’s not itchy, and it likely won’t ever even cover the arms or legs or face. A day or two, or less, later, it’s gone, and another childhood sickness is over and done. Roseola is generally considered to be a mild illness. Treat the fever as needed, consult a doctor if it’s over 103 or lasts longer than a week, and rest easy knowing that this one is common and usually overall harmless.
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Rotavirus is another common illness that many children are vaccinated against, but as there are multiple strains of the virus that causes it (and as no vaccine is perfect), no one is completely safe. Rotavirus is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in young children, and a good many little ones come down with this one sometime in their first three years of life. Rotavirus also comes with a fever and vomiting. The biggest concern is dehydration; watch out for extreme thirst, lethargy, dry skin, and too few wet diapers or bathroom trips. Rotavirus is pretty contagious, and the first line of defense against it (aside from the vaccine) is regular hand washing. Manage the fever, push liquids (water, or consider electrolyte drinks), and keep in touch with your child’s care provider. Don’t hesitate to go to urgent care if necessary.
RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus, and it’s a very common in young children. RSV causes fever, sore throat, coughing, and a stuffy nose. RSV is worrisome in infants and immunocompromised individuals, but is otherwise usually pretty mild, if rather unpleasant. It can, however, lead to pneumonia or bronchitis. Most of the time, RSV doesn’t require any direct medical treatment, although you might get peace of mind just getting the diagnosis. Use a cool mist humidifier, make sure your little one keeps drinking liquids, and treat other symptoms as necessary. In some cases, your child’s care provider might prescribe a steroid treatment to open up the airways, but this isn’t necessary for most kids.
This one isn’t super common, but many parents might be surprised to learn that obstructive sleep apnea — when a child stops breathing during sleep for a few seconds at a time because something is blocking the airway — affects 1 to 10 percent of children. Signs to watch out for are snoring, heavy breathing during sleep, restless sleep, daytime sleepiness, and problems with bedwetting. Some even think that undiagnosed sleep apnea may be the underlying culprit for many kids diagnosed with ADHD! If you have even the slightest concern about this one, definitely talk to your child’s doctor ASAP; you can have a sleep study done to find out for sure if apnea may be a problem. Sleep apnea is sometimes treated by removing the tonsils and/or adenoids, and severe cases might necessitate a special sleep mask that keeps the airways open.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes a sore throat, fever, swollen tonsils, and swollen neck glands. Children suffering from it may have difficulty swallowing, a loss of appetite, and other general feelings of illness, and sometimes red and white patches can be seen in the back of the throat. Strep is very contagious, and kids can continue to spread it for weeks after symptoms first show up. Fortunately, strep can be easily diagnosed at your care provider’s office with a simple swab test, and it’s easily treated with antibiotics. Beyond that, keep kids hydrated with water and warm liquids and let them rest. If treated right, they’ll be on the mend within a few days.
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UTI means urinary tract infection, and they’re surprisingly common in kids. A UTI can happen when the bacteria gets into the bladder or kidneys. The most common symptoms in older kids are frequent potty trips, fevers, pain while urinating, and pain in the lower belly area. Babies will have a fever or throw up, or they may just be more fussy than usual. If you suspect a UTI, call your pediatrician right away; they’re easy to treat with a round of antibiotics, but leaving them untreated can cause further problems. A more severe UTI may require hospitalization. The best way to prevent UTIs? Good hygiene! Teach kids to wipe properly when they use the bathroom and wash their hands.