Childhood Illnesses | Emma's Diary India

Child By Year

Dealing with childhood illnesses


How to deal with common illnesses and when to call the doctor

First illnesses in babies and young children are always concerning as parents worry about whether symptoms are serious and if their child should see a doctor.

Of course, you should be aware of potentially concerning symptoms, but over time, after the inevitable bouts of illness children encounter, learning to trust your instincts will be one of the most valuable ways to assess your child.

How to assess your child

Your child's immunity to illness develops during the early years as she encounters new germs and bacteria and builds up her natural resistance.

This means that she will succumb to infections easily in these first few years and will also have plenty of opportunity to encounter contagious bugs and viruses as she starts socialising with other children at day groups and nurseries.

You will quickly get used to the signs that your baby isn't well. She may go off her food, become more clingy and won’t be her usual lively self.

She may also have clear symptoms, such as a fever (a temperature over 37.5 degrees C) or a rash. A fever in itself is not a significant concern for young children (it's more unusual in babies so treated with more caution).

It's actually a healthy indication that her body is fighting off an infection. If her cheek feels hot and she looks flushed, you can check her temperature and give infant paracetamol or ibuprofen in the correct dose for her age, to make her more comfortable.

Be informed too, about the symptoms of serious conditions such as meningitis, so that you can act quickly if necessary.

Looking after your unwell child

Many common infections can be managed easily at home. Being familiar with symptoms and basic care helps to avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor.

Your child mostly needs love, comfort and the opportunity to rest, and perhaps some medication if necessary to bring down a temperature.

Follow her lead; if she seems reluctant to stay in bed all day, set her up on the sofa with a blanket or duvet. Read her a couple of stories, let her watch a bit of TV and encourage her to doze off if she feels sleepy.

If she is especially poorly, she may not even think about leaving her bed, in which case draw the curtains and let her sleep and rest. Stay nearby and check in on her regularly so she feels reassured. Your calming presence will help her relax, rest and recuperate.

Make sure she's physically comfortable, too. Keep her in a comfortable draught-free room, ideally between 16°–20°C but avoid a stuffy environment, which could make her feel worse. If she has a fever, or has had vomiting or diarrhoea, it's really important that she stays well hydrated, so even if she is off her food, encourage her to take frequent sips of water.

Once she starts to perk up a bit, tempt her with a little easy to manage food. If she's congested, chicken or vegetable soup or dal is comforting and studies suggest has actual medicinal value: it's thought to speed up the movement of mucus and acts as an anti-inflammatory, so worth a try.

Your chemist will be able to advise you about treatments that can help to ease your child's symptoms.

Most of all stay cheerful and positive. Young children can feel insecure and anxious when ill and need comforting. Giving her a reassuring cuddle and telling her she will soon be fine, helps more than you might think.

When to call the doctor

If an illness lingers for more than five days, or there are other symptoms such as:

  • Breathing problems
  • An unexplained rash
  • A fever that concerns you
  • Earache
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhoea that doesn't subside after six hours
  • A seizure
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Reduced alertness
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Pain on urinating
  • Frequent urination

Most importantly, if you just feel something isn't quite right, then take your child to the doctor.

Infectious childhood illnesses


Children are not currently vaccinated against this common, usually mild, childhood illness, caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

The most recognizable symptom is the familiar spot-like itchy rash, made up of red fluid-filled blisters, which starts on the back, chest, head and neck and spreads over the body. Your child may also feel unwell and have a temperature.

The incubation period (the time from the exposure to the virus until symptoms appear) is 7–21 days, and children are most infectious 1-2 days before the rash appears, although they continue to be infectious while they have the rash.

You should keep your child away from other children for 5-6 days after the rash appears, or until all the spots have crusted over.

Apply calamine lotion to relieve the itchy rash, keep your child hydrated, and give paracetamol to treat a fever. Keep her away from pregnant women too.

There's no need to see the doctor unless your child seems particularly unwell.

Whooping cough

This bacterial infection affects the lungs and airways. Symptoms include a prolonged cough – which can last for up to 100 days – that gradually gets worse, building up to exhausting coughing episodes that can make it hard to breathe.

There may be a whooping sound as breath is drawn in and your child may vomit. It usually affects children under six months more severely than other children and they are likely to be hospitalised.

The incubation period is 6–21 days and children are infectious from the first signs of illness until three weeks after the 'whooping' cough begins.

Early treatment with antibiotics reduces complications as well as reducing the infectious period considerably. Your child needs to stay away from others for five days from the start of any antibiotic treatment, or 21 days from the onset of the 'whooping' cough if no antibiotics are given.

Whooping cough is largely preventable through routine vaccinations, but it is possible for a baby to catch it before the immunization or vaccination programme starts if the mother didn't have the whooping cough immunisation during the last trimester of pregnancy, which would have given her baby protection. If your child has whooping cough, ring your doctor for advice and treatment.

As with all infectious diseases, if your child needs to be seen by a doctor, ring first to make an appointment. It's important that your child does not wait in the general waiting room where he may infect others.


This is a highly infectious viral illness that can lead to serious complications. Routine immunisation with the MMR vaccine means this is now rare in countries like the UK, but where children haven't been vaccinated the illness can spread very quickly.

Symptoms are like a typical cold at the start, with a cough and teary, light sensitive eyes. The child gets progressively more ill with a high temperature, then a red-brown, raised rash appears after three or four days, starting behind the ears then spreading over the body.

The incubation period is 7–12 days and a child is infectious from four days before the rash appears until four days after it has gone.

You should always seek advice from your doctor if your child has measles. Your child will need rest, fluids and medication to bring down a temperature. If the eyes are crusty with dried fluid, gently wash them with warm water. If a cough is persistent, your child is drowsy, or has trouble breathing, contact your doctor.


This contagious viral infection causes painful swelling on the sides of the face and under the chin giving a hamster-like appearance. Your child may also feel generally unwell and have a temperature.

The incubation period is 14–25 days and the infectious period is from a few days before symptoms start until the swelling has subsided. Keep your child away from others for 5 days from onset of swelling.

You should always seek advice from your doctor if your child has mumps. Plenty of fluids should be given, and paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort. Cool compresses to the face can also help to ease the pain.

Rubella (German measles)

This mild viral infection starts like a cold, then after a day or two a flat, pale pink rash develops. The glands on the neck may also be swollen. Usually no special treatment is required, although you should always check with your doctor.

The incubation period is 15–20 days and the infectious period from one day before the rash appears until five or more days after it has gone. Keep your child away from other children for 6 days from onset of the rash.

Keep your child hydrated and away from women in the early months of pregnancy, or anyone you know who is trying to get pregnant.

If you are pregnant and you suspect your child has rubella, you should contact your doctor who will want to test to see if you are at risk of developing the illness.

Slapped cheek syndrome (Fifth disease)

This is usually a mild, viral infection that causes a fever and a redness affecting both cheeks as though they have been slapped, which then spreads over the body. Before the rash appears, your child may also have headaches, a sore throat and upset stomach.

The incubation period is 1–20 days and children are infectious from 3-7 days before the rash appears; after the rash comes out the child is no longer infectious.

Treatment is rest, fluids and paracetamol or ibuprofen to bring down the fever.

If your child has contact with anyone who is pregnant, or someone who is immunocompromised (for example, having chemotherapy) or suffering from thalassemia or sickle cell disease, it is important to get urgent medical advice as the infection can be severe in these groups.

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