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Common Childhood illnesses

Know the basics - Be prepared and know the signs.
This information booklet is to help you be able to recognise the signs of common illnesses that occur in children under 5. If you know the basics and are well prepared, you will find it easier to cope.
Be prepared for any illnesses by keeping a supply of useful medications and equipment somewhere safe in your house. This include things like:

  • Thermometer
  • Plasters
  • Liquid painkillers (e.g. baby paracetamol or ibuprofen). Try to keep sugar-free if possible.
  • Barrier Cream
  • Natural oils like vegetable oil (for dry skin)
  • Make sure you have the right strength of medicine for the age of your child, always follow instructions carefully and check the use by dates.

Nappy rash & dry skin:
Nappy rash is very common and can affect lots of babies. It is usually caused when your baby’s skin comes into contact with wee and poo that collects in their nappy. A nappy rash causes your baby’s skin to become sore. The skin in this area may be covered in red spots or blotches. You might need to change their nappy more often.
Nappy rashes are usually treated with a simple skincare routine and by using a cream you can get over the counter from your local pharmacy.
If you are still worried, speak to your health visitor.

       Health visitor tips:

  • Leave your baby in a warm, safe place with no clothes or nappy on, to let the air get to their skin.
  • Use a barrier cream.
  • Remember to change and check their nappy often.


Sticky eyes & Conjunctivitis
‘Sticky eyes’ are common in newborn babies and young children while their tear ducts are developing.  You may see some sticky stuff in the corner of the eyes or their eyelashes may be stuck together.
It normally clears up on its own, but you may have to clean your baby’s eyes regularly with damp cotton wool. Use clean, cooled boiled water. Wipe each eye from the corner by the nose outwards. Use a clean piece of cotton wool for eye wipe. Remember to wash your hands before and afterwards and avoid sharing towels to prevent spreading infection.

Conjunctivitis signs are that your baby has a yellowy, green sticky goo which comes back regularly.  If you notice this, contact your GP.


Coughs & colds
Having a cold or cough helps your child’s body build up a natural immune system. Most of the bugs will run their course without doing any harm because they will get better on their own, however there are things you can do at home to help:

  • Give your child lots to drink
  • Try infant paracetamol
  • Keep them away from smoke. Do not let people smoke at home, around your child or come into contact with your child if they have recently smoked.
  • Keep calm - a cuddle goes a long way.
  • Talk to your Pharmacist. 
  • Always check with your Pharmacist if you are unsure which treatments to give your child. Try and be as hygienic as possible to prevent spreading.

Ear infections
Ear infections often follow a cold and can sometimes cause a temperature. A child may pull at their ear, but babies cannot tell where their pain is coming from, so they just cry and seem generally uncomfortable.
Babies have some natural protection against infections in the first few weeks - this is boosted by breastfeeding. In babies and toddlers, bacteria and viruses pass from the nose to the ears more easily.
The signs of an ear infection are fever, ear pain, fussiness or irritability especially when lying down, disturbed sleep patterns, fluid draining from the ear. Although most ear infections settle down without any serious effects, there can be mild hearing loss for a short time. Try giving infant paracetamol however if there is no important in 24 hours, contact your GP,


If your child has a fever, he or she will have a body temperature above 38°C. Your child may also feel tired, look pale, have a poor appetite, be irritable, have a headache or other aches and pains and feel generally unwell. Take the temperature from the armpit. However, bear in mind that these measurements are less accurate as the armpit is slightly cooler.
A fever is part of the body’s natural response to infection and can often be left to run its courses provided your child is drinking enough and is otherwise well. Fevers are very common in young children.
They are usually caused by viral infections and clear up without treatment. However, a fever
can occasionally be a sign of a more serious illness such as severe bacterial infection of the blood, urinary tract infection, pneumonia or Meningitis. If the symptoms do not improve after 48 hours, contact your GP.

A baby’s skin is thinner and needs extra care. Dry, flaky skin, some blemishes, blotches and slight rashes are normal in newborns and will naturally clear up. Try to limit the amount of products you use on their skin. Never leave your baby out in the sun. Baths, loose clothing and calamine lotion can all help ease itchy skin. Antihistamines are useful for babies over one year old.

If your baby has a rash that does not disappear when you press a glass to it, contact your GP or call111 immediately. This may be a sign of Meningitis and needs to be seen by a Doctor no matter how well your baby seems.


Chickenpox is a mild disease that most children catch at some point. The spots often look like mosquito bites and can appear on any part of the body. If you try the glass test, be aware that Chickenpox spots do not fade (non-blanching).
Chickenpox is easy to pass on to someone who has not had it before. If your child has it, keep themaway from others. After having Chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Later in life, the virus can come back in a different form known as Shingles.

50% of children in the UK have allergies. There are many types of allergies so find out as much information as you can.
An allergy is when the body has a reaction to a protein such as foods, insect stings, pollens, house dust mite or other substance such as antibiotics.
Allergic symptoms can affect the nose, throat, ears, eyes, airways, digestion and skin in lid, moderate or sever form. When a child first shows signs of an allergy it is not always clear what has caused the symptoms, or even if they have had an allergic reaction, since some allergic symptoms can be similar to other common childhood illnesses. Contact your GP if your child has severe symptoms. If you suspect your child has a food allergy, it is very important that you get a professional diagnosis from your GP so please speak to your GP as soon as you can. Your child may need referring to an allergy clinic.

Symptoms of an allergy:

  • Eyes - Itchy, watery, prickly, swollen. Dark areas under eyes due to blocked sinuses.
  • Airways - Wheezy breathing, difficulty in breathing, coughing, shortness of breath.
  • Nose, throat and ears - Runny nose, blocked nose, itchy nose, sneezing, pain in sinuses, headaches, post-nasal drip, loss of sense of smell and taste, sore throat, itchy mouth/throat,
  • blocked ear and glue ear.
  • Eczema - cracked, dry or weepy, broken skin.
  • Digestion - swollen lips/tongue, stomach ache, feeling sick, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, bleeding from the bottom and reflux.

Constipation is a very common problem in children. Many children normally pass stools as far apart as every few days. Regardless, you should treat hard stools that are difficult to pass and those that happen only every three days as constipation.
Breastfed infants will generally have more stools per day. Their stools vary more in frequency when compared to bottle-fed infants. Switching the type of milk or formula can also cause constipation.
Many things contribute to constipation but infants and children who get well-balanced meals typically are not constipated.
Speak to our Health Visitor for advice.

      Health visitor tips:

  • To avoid constipation and help stop it coming back make sure your child has a balanced diet including plenty of fibre such as fruit, vegetables, baked beans and wholegrain breakfast cereals.
  • We do not recommend unprocessed bran as this can cause bloating, flatulence and
    reduce the absorption of micronutrients.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If the problem doesn't go away, speak to your GP.


Urticaria or hives
Childhood rashes are very common and often nothing to worry about. Most rashes are harmless and go away on their own.

Urticaria or hives is a raised, red, itchy rash that appears on the skin. It can be frightening especially if you don’t know the cause. It happens when a trigger causes a protein called histamine to be released in the skin. Histamine causes redness, swelling and itching, the rash can be limited to one part of the body or spread across large areas of the body.
Hives can be triggered by many things, including allergens, irritants, medicines or physical factors,such as exercises or heat. The rash is usually short lived and mild, and in many cases does not need treatment as the rash often gets better.

Some things that trigger Urticaria can be avoided, these include:

  • Food such as peanuts, shellfish, eggs and cheese.
  • Environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites or chemicals.
  • Insect bites and stings.
  • Emotional stress.
  • Some medications - do not stop any prescribed medications before your speak to your Healt Visitor or GP.
  • Physical triggers such as pressure to the skin, change in temperature, sunlight, exercise or water.



Asthma is a common long-term condition that can be well controlled in most children. The severity of Asthma symptoms varies between children, from very mind to more severe. Asthma has multiple causes and it is not uncommon for two or more different causes to be present in one child. Asthma is more than wheezing. Coughing, recurrent Bronchitis and shortness of breath, especially when exercising, are also ways that Asthma appears.

The two most common triggers of Asthma in children are colds and allergies. After infancy, allergies become particularly important and avoiding the allergens to which your child is allergic to may help improve their Asthma. Asthma often runs in families and parents should avoid smoking indoors or near to their children.
A sudden, severe onset of symptoms is known as an Asthma attack. It can be life threatening and may require immediate hospital treatment.
If you think your child has Asthma, make an appointment to see your GP or Nurse Practitioner.


Wheezing and breathing difficulties
Any kind of breathing difficulty your infant or child experiences can be scary for parents. It may be nothing to worry about and could just be normal baby snuffles.
Use your instincts with newborns and babies.

It could be: 

  • Rapid breathing or panting, which is common. There are no other signs of illness, it comes and goes and your baby is breathing comfortably most of the time, there’s normally no need to worry.
  • Breathing may sound a bit rattly. Try holding for baby upright.
  • Occasional coughing or chocking which may occur when a baby takes in milk too quickly with feeds. Try to slow things down a bit. Checking feeding position.
  • A cold or mild cough. Keep an eye on them at this stage and use your instincts.
  • In older babies and toddlers you may notice:
     Coughing, runny nose, mild temperature.
     Croup (hoarse voice, barking cough) needs to be assess by a GP and may need treating with steroids.

If your child is finding breathing hard work and they are sucking in their ribs and tummy and can’t complete a full sentence without stopping to take a breath, contact your GP immediately.
If your child’s chest looks like it is ‘caving in’ and they appear pale or even slightly blue-ish, call 999 or take them to A&E.

Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection that affects babies and young children under a year old. The early symptoms are similar to those of a common cold and include a runny nose and cough.
As it develops, the symptoms can include: a fever, a dry and persistent cough and difficulty feeding.
Symptoms usually improve after three days and in most cases the illness isn’t serious/ However,contact your GP if your child is only able to feed half the normal amount or is struggling to breathe, or if you are generally worried about them.

Babies and toddlers are most vulnerable as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed. They can’t tell you how they are feeling and can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.

Meningitis is a swelling around the brain. It is a very serious, contagious illness, but if it is treated early most children make a full recovery.

Always treat any case of suspected Meningitis as an emergency. Early signs may be like having a cold or flu. Children with Meningitis can become seriously ill very
fast, so make sure you spots the signs. Your child may have a cluster of red or purple spots. Do the glass test. This rash can be harder to see on darker skin, so check for spots over your baby or child’s whole body as it can start anywhere.
However, the rash is not always present—be aware of all the signs/symptoms.

If your child has any of these signs, contact your GP immediately:

  • Fever, cold hands and feet
  • Floppy and unresponsive.
  • Drowsy and difficult to wake.
  • Spots/rash.
  • Do the glass test.
  • Rapid breathing or grunting.
  • Fretful, dislikes being handled.
  • Unusual cry or moaning.

The glass test.
The glass test is a really useful way of spotting suspected Meningitis. If your child has a cluster of red or purple spots, press the side of a clear drinking glass firmly against the rash.
If the spots are still visible through the glass, go straight to A&E.
If the spots disappear through the glass, it is unlikely to be Meningitis. However, if you are still worried, contact your GP or call 111

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