Hand Foot and Mouth Disease: What Is It and What Should I Look For?

hand foot mouth rashAs parents, it’s difficult when we know our little ones aren’t feeling well. Especially when they are too young to fully communicate with us exactly “where it hurts”. When your normally cheerful and active 3 year old starts to become lethargic and grumpy, as a parent we immediately know that something is wrong. One common viral illness, hand, foot, and mouth disease, has a funny name…with not-so-funny symptoms. If your child is starting to act like he/she isn’t feeling well, here are some common signs to watch for recommended by the CDC to determine if indeed it’s hand, foot, and mouth disease.

How old is your child? This common viral illness happens more often in children and infants five years old and under. Although there have been known occurrences in adults, hand, foot, and mouth disease usually occurs in younger children and infants. Although the virus starts like the common cold or flu, additional symptoms will eventually occur.

Watch for the signs. First, you’ll notice a fever, reduced appetite, and sore throat. Your child will also feel sick with malaise (discontent). After a couple days, it’s common for children to develop painful mouth sores called herpangina. These sores usually start in the back of the throat and appear as small red spots that end up blistering and turning into ulcers. If you’ve ever had a mouth sore you know how uncomfortable that can make you feel!

Skin rashes develop. Once you find the sores in your child’s throat, it’s likely a skin rash with similar red spots will start to develop on the palms of the hands and then the bottom of their feet. The rash can also commonly appear on the knees, bottom, genital area, or even the elbows. The red spots can also turn into painful blisters. Hand, foot, and mouth disease sets itself a part from the common cold virus because of the skin rash that can develop as well as the location of the sores and/or blisters.

How to ease the pain. As with any illness, make sure your child stays hydrated. Because of the throat sores, many children do not want to eat or drink because it’s painful and uncomfortable. Keeping them hydrated is very important. There is no vaccination against hand, foot, and mouth disease and no specific treatment. It’s best to contact Dr. Kellow’s office if you suspect your child has the virus so you can receive the proper treatment. Over-the-counter medications can be used to relieve pain and fever and some mouthwashes and sprays that numb the mouth can be beneficial as well.

If your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease it is best to keep them away from others, especially during the most contagious time which is usually the first week of symptoms. However, some children can be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms disperse. Maintaining good hygiene, by washing hands and not sharing food and drinks, is the best way to not spread the disease.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is quite contagious, so it’s essential to keep your child out of daycare if they have the disease. The virus can be spread through close contact with people and even through the air (coughs, sneezing). Fortunately, complications of hand, foot, and mouth disease are extremely rare.

If you believe your child is suffering from hand, foot, and mouth disease, please call the Association of Childcare Physicians immediately so Dr. Kellow and Dr. Shaw can properly diagnose and treat your infant or toddler.