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In Sickness and Health: A guide to common childhood illnesses

Little kids are germ factories. Adorable, sweet and cuddly germ factories. Once they start daycare, playdates or school, they're likely to come home with all manner of sniffles, coughs and other, even messier ailments. But when is it "just" a cold and when should you call the doctor? Is it something you can make all better with some chicken soup and a good cuddle, or will it take a round of antibiotics to do the trick? Here's a look at some common childhood illnesses, their symptoms and possible treatments.

*Please note: This chart is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of medical treatment. If you have any concerns at all about your child's health, call your doctor right away!





5th Disease

Red cheeks, lacy rash on torso and limbs that may come and go for three days to three weeks; fever and headache.

Virus spreads by person-to-person contact. Most common in children ages 5-14.

Fluids, rest, over-the-counter non-aspirin pain reliever if necessary for fever. Typically goes away after seven days.

Chicken Pox

Intensely itchy red spots that blister, rupture, crust and scab, often seen in clusters on the chest and torso; slight fever and loss of appetite.

Very contagious and spreads by person-to-person contact and infected airborne droplets.

Immunization available. Treat itching with calamine lotion or soothing oatmeal baths. Keep fingernails trimmed to help curb scratching. Over-the-counter non-aspirin pain reliever if necessary.

Common Cold

Runny nose, congestion or stuffiness, sneezing, occasional low fever, sore/scratchy throat, dry cough, fatigue, loss of appetite.

Usually a virus spread by person-to-person contact or sharing objects.

Plenty of rest and fluids; decongestants if prescribed by a doctor; nasal saline drops to help soften mucus; humidifier can clear nasal passages; elevate head or crib to help make breathing easier.

Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)

Itchy, burning, red, bloodshot eyes with plentiful discharge; sensitivity to light.

Usually bacterial but can also be viral or caused by irritants. Very contagious and caused by person-to-person contact or touching contaminated objects.

Doctor-prescribed eyedrops; warm compresses can soothe itching and help cleanse eye discharge. Eliminate irritants such as cigarette smoke.


Starts with cold-like symptoms and gradually develops into hoarseness and a bark-like cough, sore throat and possible fever; may have difficulty breathing. Symptoms often worsen at night.

Caused by the same viruses that bring us the common cold. Can also be triggered by a combination of a virus and allergies. Spread by direct contact or infected airborne droplets.

Inhaling steam from a hot shower, cool night air or a humidifier may help alleviate symptoms. Try to keep child calm since crying can worsen symptoms. Plenty of rest and fluids; non-aspirin pain reliever for sore throat or fever.

Gastritis (Stomach Flu)

Stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea. Fever and body aches may be present.

Virus spreads by person-to-person contact or eating contaminated food.

Small amounts of fluid every half hour or so while symptoms are present will help prevent dehydration -- 2 to 4 ounces. Once vomiting stops, continue to push fluids and add mild foods such as bananas, yogurt and toast.

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease

Loss of appetite, fever and sore throat. Small sores in the mouth and on hands and feet that turn to blisters.

Virus spreads by person-to-person contact. Most common in summer and early fall.

Reduce fever with non-aspirin pain reliever. Feed soft, bland foods to avoid discomfort. Symptoms usually resolve on their own within 10 days.


Fever, aches, chills,   headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose.

Virus spreads by person-to-person contact, airborne droplets or touching a contaminated item.

A yearly flu shot (for kids over six months old) can help prevent illness. Non-aspirin pain reliever can help reduce fever, aches and pains; plenty of rest and fluids can help too. Doctor may prescribe anti-viral medication.