Common Childhood Illnesses

Kids are still exposed to germs at school every day. Be prepared and learn about the germs and viruses they could come in contact with.


Asthma is a chronic disease of the tubes (bronchia) that carry air to the lungs. It's often hard to diagnose because different children can show different types of symptoms. For example, one child may have frequent and long-lasting colds; another may cough throughout the night. Symptoms can begin or get worse when "triggered" by common allergens.

Children with asthma may also be sensitive to colds and other viral infections, cold air, particles or chemicals in the air, and/or rapid changes in air temperature. When asthma "flares up" - it is often called a "flare" or an "asthma attack."


During a flare, airways become swollen and inflamed, making them oversensitive and "twitchy." This leads to spasms that cause:

  • Airway blockage
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath


If your child has asthma symptoms, he or she should be evaluated and treated by his/her GP. Treatment includes controlling the inflammation of the airways with medications, and avoiding triggers. The most important thing to remember about treating asthma is that rapid response helps to manage and stop the asthma "attack" quickly.

It's not possible to prevent asthma, but you can work to help prevent asthma attacks. Once your child's GP has identified your child's asthma triggers, try to eliminate your child's exposure to them.


Chickenpox is a common illness among kids, especially before age 12. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It usually goes away without treatment, but because the infection is so contagious, it often travels through entire families, preschool classes or play groups.


  • Red, itchy rash on the skin that resembles pimples or bug bites.
  • Often appears first on your child's belly, back or face. It then spreads over the entire body, often including the scalp, mouth, nose, ears, and genitals.
  • May include flu-like symptoms: sore throat, stomach ache, headache and/or fever
  • The initial rash develops into small blisters filled with liquid that starts out clear, and then turns cloudy.
  • Blisters will break, leaving sores that will dry to become scabs.

A child is contagious until all lesions are crusted over.


There is no treatment for chickenpox, as it's caused by a virus. However, your child can be protected by getting the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, usually between the ages of 12 to 15 months. If you think your child may have chickenpox, call his or her GP. Be sure to ask about recognizing potential complications. If you choose to take your child in for a checkup, let the staff know that you suspect chickenpox to ensure that other children in the waiting room are not exposed.

The Common Cold

A cold is typically contagious during the first two to four days after symptoms begin, and for up to three weeks. It is easily spread by person-to-person contact or by person-to-surface contact ... and preventing its spread is one of the primary reasons that frequent and thorough hand washing is so important.


  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Scratchy throat
  • May include sore throat, cough, headache, mild fever, fatigue, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and or thick green/yellow mucus.


Medicine will not cure a cold, but it may help relieve your child's muscle aches, headache, and fever. You can try acetaminophen or ibuprofen - just be sure to read the label for recommendations based on age and/or weight.

Ask your GP about symptoms to watch for that may require medical care. In addition: Never give cold medicine to a child under the age of 12 without direct instructions from your GP, and never give aspirin to a child with a cold.


This common condition is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids. Some types go away by themselves, and some need medical treatment. Some conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria or viruses; these varieties are contagious. Other (non-contagious) varieties are caused by allergies or an environmental irritant, such as airborne pollutants like smoke or fumes.


  • Typically, eyes are uncomfortable and red
  • Itchiness
  • Watery eyes
  • Discharge that makes eyelids stick together after sleeping.


Treatment varies according to the cause, so contact your child's GP to determine the cause and recommended treatment. Try cool or warm compresses to help your child's symptoms. In addition, gently clean the infected eye(s) from inner to outer corner with a clean gauze or cotton pads dipped in warm water. If your child develops a fever and increased swelling, redness, or tenderness in and around the eye/eyelids, contact his/her GP immediately.

Ear Infections

Ear infections are very common among young children. In fact, 75 percent of U.S. children have had at least one by the age of three. Depending on the type of ear infection your child has, it may or may not require medication.


Depending on the type of ear infection:

  • Ear pain
  • Pressure
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty eating or sleeping
  • Feeling of ears being plugged up or "popping"
  • No symptoms at all


If you think your child has an ear infection, call his/her GP. Treatment will vary depending on many factors, including type and severity of the ear infection, how long it has lasted, frequency of ear infections, age and possible risk factors, and whether the infection affects your child's hearing. If your child is prone to ear infections, it may help to keep him/her away from large groups of children and second hand smoke.


Influenza, or the "flu," is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs that is caused by influenza viruses. Flu is sometimes confused with the common cold - but in general, the flu is worse than the common cold. It is also highly contagious.


  • Sudden, often high fever
  • Cough (sometimes dry)
  • Achy muscles
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Extreme fatigue


Antibiotics will not cure the flu virus. And since flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza, or by touching an infected surface, hand washing and cleaning/disinfecting of surfaces are critical in preventing its spread. If you think your child has the flu, contact his/her GP. Depending on severity of symptoms, the provider may prescribe antiviral medication to help alleviate symptoms.

Head Lice

Head lice are tiny, wingless parasitic insects that live among human hairs. They are very common, especially for children ages 3 to 12, and more frequently girls. Head lice are also very contagious ... and have nothing to do with a child's hygiene or cleanliness.


  • Itchy and inflamed scalp
  • Lice eggs (nits) that look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch.
  • After hatching (which takes 1 to 2 weeks), the remaining shell looks white or clear.
    • Nymphs (baby lice) are smaller than adult lice; they become adult lice about 7 days after they hatch.
    • Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed. They are dark tan, although they can look darker when in darker hair.


Call your child's GP if you suspect that your child has head lice, or if your child is scratching his/her scalp or other areas with body hair. Your child's GP or a pharmacist can recommend a medicated shampoo, cream, or lotion to kill the lice. He/she may also suggest a special rinse to use on your child's hair that makes it easier to comb out the nits.

Seek medical advice if prescription or over-the-counter medications are not successful.


This contagious skin infection is one of the most common skin infections among kids. Usually, it is caused by one of two bacteria: group A Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus. Impetigo is especially common in the summer months, and is even more likely to occur where skin is already injured or irritated. It can be spread by contact with infected skin, or touching things like clothing, towels, and bed linens that have been touched by infected skin.


Symptoms depend on which bacteria caused it:

  • Group A Streptococcus: symptoms are tiny blisters that eventually burst and leave small wet patches of red, often oozing skin. Gradually, a tan or yellowish-brown crust (resembling honey or brown sugar) covers the healing area.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: symptoms are larger, fluid containing blisters that appear clear, then cloudy. Oftentimes, these blisters don't burst.


If you suspect that your child may have impetigo, call his/her GP. Small areas of impetigo can usually be treated with antibiotic ointment - but if your child has it in too many areas of the body, his or her GP may prescribe an antibiotic pill or liquid. Once antibiotic treatment begins, healing should start within a few days.


MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a potentially dangerous type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics and may cause skin and other infections. As with all regular staph infections, recognizing the signs and receiving treatment for MRSA skin infections in the early stages reduces the chance of the infection becoming severe.


Most staph skin infections, including MRSA, appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that may be:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • painful
  • Warm to the touch
  • Full or pus or other drainage
  • Accompanied by a fever


If you suspect a MRSA skin infection, cover the area with a bandage and contact your healthcare professional. It is especially important to contact your healthcare professional if signs and symptoms of an MRSA skin infection are accompanied by a fever.


Ringworm is not a worm. It's a fungal infection of the scalp or skin, and gets its name from the "rings" it can produce on the skin. Ringworm is in the "tinea" family of fungal skin infections, which also cause jock itch and athlete's foot. It is very common and mildly contagious, especially among children. Domestic animals such as farm animals, dogs, cats, hamsters, and guinea pigs can also have ringworm; children can contract ringworm from these animals if they are in close contact with them.


  • Skin: Itching, redness on the skin, and a circular patchy lesion that spreads along its borders and clears at the center.
  • Scalp: Starts as a small sore that resembles a pimple before becoming patchy, flaky, or scaly. It is often confused with dandruff. The scalp may become swollen, sore and red; some hair may fall out or break off.
  • Nails: May become thick, white or yellowish, and brittle.
  • May include swollen, inflamed and oozing mass known as a "kerion." This is sometimes confused with impetigo.


If you suspect that your child has ringworm, call his or her GP. Your child's GP may recommend an antifungal ointment for ringworm of the skin, or an oral medication for ringworm of the scalp and/or nails.

Strep Throat

Strep throat gets its name from the group A Streptococcus bacteria that causes it. Strep throat is very common, and it's contagious. When a child has strep throat, the bacteria are typically found right in the nose and throat area - which makes strep very easy to pass along by sneezing, coughing, or even hand-to-hand contact. If left untreated, strep throat can lead to serious complications.


  • Red and white patches in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tender or swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
  • Red and enlarged tonsils
  • Headache
  • Lower stomach pain
  • Fever
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling
  • Loss of appetite and nausea
  • Rash
  • Symptomatic bad breath


If you think your child has strep throat, or has a sore throat and may have been exposed to strep, contact his or her GP. Your child's GP will conduct a rapid strep test and/or a culture before deciding if antibiotics are necessary.


Warts are skin infections caused by viruses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) family, and they are more common in children than in adults. While they can appear anywhere, they often are found on or around small cuts or scratches, or around nails when a child bites his/her nails and skin. They are very contagious, and your child can contract warts just by touching something - like a towel or table - that was touched by someone with a wart.


There are different symptoms for different warts:

  • Common - found on fingers, hands, knees, and elbows. A small, hard bump that's dome-shaped and usually greyish-brown, often has a rough surface with black dots.
  • Flat - often on faces, but also on arms, knees, or hands. Smaller than other warts; smooth with flat tops. They can be pink, light brown, or yellow and can appear in clusters.
  • Plantar - found on the bottom of the foot. Because of their location, they can make it painful to walk.
  • Filiform - found around the mouth, eyes, or nose. Shaped more like fingers and are typically flesh-toned.


If your young child has a wart, talk to his or her GP before trying to treat it yourself. A wart will often go away without treatment; this can take from approximately 6 months to two years. Or, your child's GP may decide to remove the wart if it is bothering your child or is painful (as is often the case with plantar warts).