Being sick is a part of growing up, and caring for your sick child is a part of parenting. Most childhood diseases are contagious and spread easily among family members, day-care centers and at schools. Many of these are preventable through immunization, knowing the signs and symptoms of common childhood ailments can be helpful in early diagnosis and treatment.
Here’s a comprehensive list of common childhood conditions:
Is it a cold/flu? Common cold is a viral infection accompanied by mild fever, congestion, cough, cold, and sore throat. Lots of fluid and rest, use of saline drops or spray to moisturize the child’s nasal passages and using an aspirator to remove excess mucus can be helpful. Kids usually recover within 5-7 days.
Flu is associated with symptoms including high fever, body aches and chills, extreme fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Often, a wintertime illness that lasts for more than a week leads to dangerous complications like pneumonia. However, annual administration of the flu vaccine can greatly reduce the risk of infection. Vaccinated children may become infected, as there are various strains of the flu virus, however, the symptoms may be less severe.
Strep throat: Most kids get a strep throat usually due to the cold virus that lasts for more than a week. Symptoms include painful or difficult swallowing, excessive drooling, a rash, infection at the back of the throat, swollen lymph nodes, high fever and abdominal pain. The infection can spread through coughs and sneezes, and touching infected surfaces. Usually cured by antibiotics after diagnosis is confirmed by physical examination and a throat culture.
Pink eye/Conjunctivitis: Redness, itching, crusty eyelashes, yellowish discharge, tearing are all signs of conjunctivitis. Usually clears within 4-7 days but can spread easily by contact, sharing hand towels, blankets or pillows. Usually a bacterial infection that can be treated by antibiotic drops, sometimes the cause may be viral or due to allergy, or an irritant in the air.
Ringworm: Usually caused by a fungus, causes red, scaly ring on the skin or a round patch of hair loss on the scalp. It spreads easily from child to child through sharing clothes, brushes, towels etc.
Impetigo: Commonly caused by staph or strep bacteria, characterized by clusters of tiny blisters on the skin that ooze and form a golden crust. Occurs in children 2-6 years of age, infection spreads through contact; can be treated with antibiotics without leaving scars.
MRSA/Staph. Infection: Infection appears as boils or sores, that doesn’t respond to some antibiotics. ENT infections due to this staph strain is also on the rise in elementary school children.
Fifth Disease: A viral infection, often called “slapped cheek syndrome” in which a bright-red rash appears on the cheeks, and also on the torso, arms and legs. It is highly contagious until the rash appears, symptoms may include a runny nose, mild fever, rash usually disappears in 7-10 days.
Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease: A viral infection usually prevalent in summers, and early fall, highly contagious, that causes fever along with blisters on the inside of mouth, palms of the hand, soles of the feet and buttocks. Ease sores with ice pops and cold fluids to keep hydrated.
Ear Infections: Glue ear, also called otitis media, is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear followed by an acute ear infection, if the fluid doesn’t clear up, it becomes thick and glue like, ear tubes may be required to drain the fluid. These tubes may be blocked when a cold causes inflammation. Germs breed behind the ears causing fever, fussiness and ear-pulling.
Seasonal Allergies: Sometimes called hay fever, allergies are not infections but a reaction to allergens like pollen, dust etc. Symptoms include wheezing, watery eyes, runny or stuffy nose. Anti-histamines help to ease the symptoms.
RSV/ Respiratory Syncytial Virus: Affects the lungs and begins with flu like symptoms including fever, runny nose, and cough, many children develop a noticeable wheezing. It can be problematic for children with a compromised immune system, congenital heart condition or chronic lung disease. If your child is wheezing, breathing very fast, appears to be lethargic or develops a bluish tinge, call your pediatrician.
Gastroenteritis: Better known as ‘stomach bug’ symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Most viruses clear up within a few days to a week, requiring nothing more than rest and rehydration. Once the symptoms subside, bananas, rice, toast and Greek yogurt can be given.
Lyme infection: A target shaped rash that appears 1-2 weeks after a tick bite, accompanied by fever, chills and body aches. If untreated, Lyme can affect the joints, nervous system and heart.
Meningitis: an inflammation or infection of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord. Main symptoms include headache, fever and stiff neck. Viral meningitis is usually mild, while bacterial meningitis has serious consequences. Vaccines are available to treat bacterial meningitis.
Pertussis/ Whooping cough: Whooping cough makes children cough so hard, running out of breath, that infants may require hospital treatment. Vaccination is essential, adults and pregnant women need a booster.
Measles: Infection starts with a fever, runny nose, and cough usually in unvaccinated children. Later a rash develops which usually gets better in two weeks.
Chicken pox: Is now preventable through the varicella vaccine. Uncomfortable red blisters cover the body. It can cause dangerous complications in newborns, adults and pregnant women.
Mumps: Another illness very common in children is mumps. Classic signs include swollen glands between the ear and jaw creating “chipmunk cheeks”. Recent outbreaks have infected many children despite high vaccination rates.