Common illnesses and conditions

Overview

A sick child can be a very worrying time for any parent and may mean a disruption in their routine and sleep. Lots of the symptoms can appear similar and it can be confusing- always seek advice and support when you are unsure.

The NHS has some good information about some common infectious childhood illnesses.

Bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is common lower respiratory tract infection that affects babies and young children under two years old.

Most cases are mild and clear up within two to three weeks without the need for treatment, although some children have severe symptoms and need hospital treatment.

The early symptoms of bronchiolitis are similar to those of a common cold, such as a runny nose and a cough, but it can become worse and your baby may need further treatment

Common cold

Healthy children may have eight or more colds a year lasting around a week. Symptoms include

  • sneezing
  • a blocked nose
  • a sore throat
  • cough
  • watering eyes
  • fever
  • are likely to want to eat less.

You can give Paracetamol for fever or pain (in babies over eight weeks). Also speak to your pharmacist about sodium chloride (saline) nose drops for babies to relieve their blocked nose before feeds.

Please read more information from the NHS.

Constipation

Some of the following signs may indicate that your child has constipation:

  • fewer than three stools in a week (unless they are exclusively breastfed)
  • a large hard stool
  • ‘rabbit dropping’ stools

If you think your child has constipation you should:

  • increase the amount of water given
  • for exclusively breastfed babies, continue feeding as normal
  • for formula fed babies, do not change the formula

Speak to your health visitor or GP if you require further help and see this NHS website for further information.

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Croup

Croup is a viral infection in children between three months and five years and mainly occurs in winter.

Symptoms are often described as a “barking” cough and a high pitched “crowing” noise when breathing in, often worse at night. There may also be a mild fever.

To help your baby to breathe you can try and sit them upright when possible and give plenty of fluids.

If you suspect your child has croup you should see your GP. If they are having any difficulty breathing then you should take them to A&E.

See here for some more information.

Diarrhoea and vomiting (D&V)

Many cases are caused by a virus, last four to seven days and can mostly be treated at home.

You can help by:

  • giving extra fluids or extra breastfeeding to keep them hydrated
  • avoid fruit juice and carbonated drinks in older children
  • encourage them to sip slowly and not drink fast
  • returning to a normal diet as soon as possible
  • babies should continue normal feeds and you should speak to your pharmacist about oral re-hydration salts

If your child goes to child care, they will need to be kept at home until 48 hours after symptoms settle, and should also not swim during this time.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after changing nappies and clothes! All soiled clothes should be washed separately from non-soiled clothes at a minimum of 60oC.

If your child’s or baby’s stool is red or black (especially after a visit to a farm or travel outside the EU) or they vomit a green, red or brown colour you should contact your GP.

For more information see this NHS website

Ear infection (Otitis Media)

Ear infections are caused by a virus or bacteria in the inner ear. Pain can be treated with Paracetamol or Ibuprofen. Always follow the instructions on the packet.

Children may

  • be in extreme pain
  • pull or rub the affected ear
  • have a fever
  • vomit
  • eat less than usual
  • have a discharge (fluid) from their ear

If you are concerned you should see your GP. It’s probably best that they don’t swim for at least two weeks.

See this NHS website for more information.

Fever

A fever or high temperature is the body’s natural response to fighting infections like coughs and colds.

Many things can cause a high temperature in children, from common childhood illnesses like chickenpox and tonsillitis, to vaccinations.

How to care for your child when they have a fever

How to take your baby’s temperature

Infective conjunctivitis (eye discharge)

This is usually caused by a viral infection and can be accompanied with cold like symptoms.

Conjunctivitis can be treated at home by wiping the eye with a cotton wool ball soaked in water that has been boiled and cooled down.

Only use the cotton wool ball once, and then throw it away. This will prevent re-infection or passing the infection to the other eye. Also don’t share flannels or towels with anyone who has an infected eye.

If the infection has not resolved within 2 weeks, see your health visitor, GP or pharmacist for further advice.

Sepsis

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection.

Without quick treatment, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Skin Problems

Dry Skin

Wash your baby or child from ‘top-to-toe’ every day and apply a moisturiser or natural oil to the skin afterwards (olive oil is no longer recommended for skin). Ensure that the product you choose is free from perfume.

Eczema

This is an itchy skin condition characterised by dry sometimes patchy skin. Some of these patches can become red, inflamed and infected. At home you should:

  • avoid detergents and soap
  • only bathe your baby or child two to three times a week; it will help to keep your baby cool, as heat can increase itching
  • keep their fingernails short to prevent damage when scratching
  • See your Health visitor or GP for help managing this condition

More information can be found on the following NHS website or the National Eczema Society.

Newborn Acne

This occurs when a new-born’s hair follicles become blocked. No treatment is needed and resolve usually within 3 months. See your health visitor if it has not cleared after this time.

Milia (Milk Spots)

These are pearly white pimples appearing under the surface of the skin, usually on cheeks and eyelids. No treatment is needed and they usually clear within two to three weeks.

Cradle cap

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in babies which usually appears in the first 6 weeks of life, but can also happen later. It is thought to develop because babies produce more oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands in their skin. Cradle cap is sometimes called ‘infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis.

The Institute for Health Visiting has further advice on cradle cap.

Sore throat

A sore throat is very common in young children. It is caused by a virus and usually lasts between five to ten days.  Sometimes a child also has a fever, with or without a cough or a cold and they may want to feed less.

You can help by:

  • avoiding hot food or drink
  • giving it softer foods and ice lollies (for older children)
  • avoiding smoky environments
  • if your child is older than 8 weeks you can use Paracetamol

If your child has breathing difficulties or they cannot swallow their own saliva, you should take them to A&E.

Viral wheeze

A viral wheeze is a condition caused by a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics

It can cause noisy breathing and is often accompanied by a fever (temperature greater than 37.5oC).

All breathing problems should be checked by a health professional. If you are worried about your child’s breathing, see your GP or call 111.

If your child has blue lips, or appears to be having difficulty breathing call 999 immediately.

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