Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. If you are concerned about your child’s health then consult a medical professional.
I haven’t written for a while as it’s been a bit of a tricky time in our household – baby J has hand, foot and mouth disease.
He has been miserable for the last few days – clingy, crying more, unsettled during the night – and I’ve been putting it down to teething.
Then on Friday morning we woke up and we realised it wasn’t teething, it was the start of his hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms!
I hate seeing my kids ill and J has had a bad case of it, so it’s been a difficult week. I imagine it must be even harder coping if you haven’t seen hand, foot and mouth before so since I’m too tired to blog much I thought I’d do a quick guide to hand, foot and mouth disease for any other parents out there coping with this!
What is hand, foot and mouth disease?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a very common viral infection. It can affect people of any age but usually affects children under the age of ten.
It can be caused by different enteroviruses, but the commonest by far is coxsackie-virus A16. People can get the condition more than once if they encounter strains caused by different viruses.
It is in no way related to ‘foot and mouth‘ disease, which affects farm animals. Hand, foot and mouth disease can’t be transmitted to or caught from animals.
Hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms
The symptoms usually start 3-5 days after being exposed to someone with the virus. It is very difficult to diagnose initially as it presents with lots of vague symptoms – fever, sore throat or mouth, loss of appetite, cough or tummy pain. This is how most viruses start in kids, so it’s really hard to know which one your child is developing!
Hand, foot and mouth disease in babies and young children can be even harder to diagnose initially as they can’t identify where the pain is or express themselves, they may simply be clingy and distressed for no obvious reason.
A few days after the symptoms of general illness, red spots can appear inside the mouth and on the tongue. These progress to mouth ulcers with time. The child may be reluctant to eat or drink due to the pain from these. Some breastfed babies go the other way and want to feed all the time as they find it soothing.
After the ulcers, usually comes the rash. I have to admit that I didn’t actually realise J had hand, foot and mouth disease until the rash appeared. I had been putting his grumpiness, clinginess and loss of appetite down to teething – J has exactly one tooth, but I blame any grumpiness on teething anyway!
Typically, the rash starts as little, raised red spots, which can then become small blisters. Hand, foot and mouth disease usually has spots on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet – there are actually very few conditions that affect these areas so it can be helpful in knowing that’s probably what your child has!
The rash classically affects the hands, feet and mouth (hence the name!) but can also affect the bottom and groin.
It can sometimes be itchy or irritating, but J seemed totally unaware of his rash. It looked terrible but didn’t seem to bother him at all!
Some children lose fingernails or toenails a few weeks after the infection, usually those who have had severe blisters. This can look alarming but the nails will grow back.
Hand, foot and mouth disease can usually be managed at home but you should see a healthcare professional urgently if:
- You aren’t sure of the diagnosis
- Your child isn’t drinking and is passing less urine
- Your child’s hands and feet feel colder than the rest of their body
- Your child becomes confused, weak or difficult to wake
- Your child starts having seizures
- Your child is under 3 months old and has a temperature over 38 degrees C or less than 6 months old with a temperature over 39 degrees C
- The skin becomes very painful, red, swollen, hot or there’s pus
- Your child is becoming more unwell or you are concerned about their health
Hand, foot and mouth disease treatment
Hand, foot and mouth disease usually gets better by itself in about 7-10 days. Unfortunately there’s no magic cure for it, so you largely just have to let your child fight it off himself.
That sounds flippant written down like that and I don’t mean it to. I know how hard it is. J spent three days in my arms, crying when he was put down, not sleeping at night. I looked like I’d survived a battle. It’s been a week now and his sleep still hasn’t fully returned to normal. I’m exhausted.
So I know that you’re probably reading this hoping for something to make your child better and I’m really sorry that I don’t have it. It really is just time.
There are, however, some things that will help.
Plenty of fluids and soft foods are the easiest to manage if the mouth is sore. For babies this may mean giving smaller volumes of breast-milk or formula more frequently. For older children soups, ice cream and yoghurt may be soothing.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to bring fever down.
There are also a range of treatments for discomfort in the mouth that you can try, check with the pharmacist for advice on what suits for your child’s age. We used ashton & parsons sachets and teething gel, but do bear in mind the warnings against teething gels containing topical anaesthetics.
Missing school, nursery or work
Hand, foot and mouth disease is most infectious from a few days before the rash appears until a few days after, but it is difficult to pin down a specific time (unlike, for example, chickenpox which is widely accepted to be no longer infectious once all lesions have crusted over).
There is no minimum time off school, nursery or work recommended and the NHS advice is simply to return to your normal activities when you feel well enough.
It can be spread through close contact either with the person with the virus or with surfaces they have been in contact with. The virus is present in saliva, coughs, sneezes and poo, so good hygiene is essential to reduce spread.
Hand, foot and mouth disease risk in pregnancy
It is uncommon for adults to get hand, foot and mouth disease, but if you are unfortunate and catch it when pregnant then the good news is that there is very little risk to your baby.
The only time it can be an issue is if you catch it within a few weeks of giving birth, as your baby may then develop it. Tell your midwife or obstetrician if you catch hand, foot and mouth close to your due date.
At other times in pregnancy even if you have hand, foot and mouth disease it is not thought to affect your baby.
This too shall pass
Hand, foot and mouth disease isn’t much fun. If your child is currently going through it then you have my sympathies. I’m writing this with the laptop precariously balancing on the couch arm as J is sleeping on my chest.
So accept that you won’t get much done the next few days and try to just enjoy the cuddles. J is already so active and independent, he won’t usually sit in my arms for long. It isn’t easy for me not to be working on a ‘to do’ list, but just now, I’ve accepted that he will only sleep in my arms or on my chest and that he doesn’t want to be put down.
A part of me has even treasured the snuggles, despite the sleep deprivation – although I am very, very relieved that he is nearly better!
I hope that you’ve found this guide to hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms, treatment and spread helpful. If you have any questions or anything isn’t clear then please leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.
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