How to Know If Your Child Has Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Illustration of a child displaying symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease
Anandhi Gunder, MD
Anandhi Gunder, MD
Pediatrician, Rainbow Euclid Pediatrics

Clinical Instructor,
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Your child is irritable, has a fever and isn’t eating well – again. Before you assume it’s just another cold or flu, watch for other symptoms. Your young one may have hand, foot and mouth disease.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is common in children younger than age 5. At the beginning, your child will most likely have a fever, reduced appetite and sore throat. One or two days later, he or she may develop painful mouth sores that start as small red spots in the back of the mouth or a rash of blistering red spots on the hands, bottoms of feet, knees, elbows, genitals or buttocks.

How Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Spreads

Viruses cause hand, foot and mouth disease. It spreads through contact with nose, throat or blister fluids, or bowel movements – for example, if you change a diaper and touch your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands. It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing air after a sick child coughs or sneezes. Your child will be the most contagious during the first week of illness.

How to Help Your Sick Child

Keep your child at home until he or she is well. There is no specific treatment, but according to pediatrician Anandhi Gunder, MD, you can help your little one feel more comfortable with:

  • Medications to reduce pain and fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Numbing mouthwashes or sprays
  • Lots of liquids to prevent dehydration

“Older children and adults can sometimes catch it, too,” Dr. Gunder says. “Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available yet.”

Dr. Gunder suggests these tips for reducing the risk for spreading hand, foot and mouth disease to other family members:

  • Make sure everyone washes hands often
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups and utensils with people who are sick
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home, like toys and doorknobs

“Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually mild and resolves within seven to 10 days," Dr. Gunder says. "Keep in mind that it is one of many infections that cause mouth sores and rashes. Your doctor will diagnose your child by considering his or her symptoms and looking at the mouth sores and rash.”

As a parent, it’s hard to see any of your children suffer. Help your children avoid getting sick in the first place by encouraging handwashing and reminding them about how they can reduce their risk.

Schedule an appointment today with a UH Rainbow Care Network pediatrician at 216-815-0059 or Rainbow.org.

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