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Treating Common Childhood IllnessesHealth Advice - Children's Illnesses

Please use the links below to find advice on a range of common childhood illnesses.

Colds & Flu
Coughs
Diarrhoea & Vomiting
Earache
Fevers & Febrile Fits
Headlice
Meningitis
Sore Throats
Worms
Common Viral Illnesses (Chicken Pox, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Whooping Cough)

Colds & Influenza

Cases of colds and flu normally start with a cough and runny nose, aches and pains and a raised temperature. Both the common cold and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics will not help treat either condition as they have no effect on viruses. Only if your child has a secondary bacterial infection of Bronchitis will your GP consider prescribing antibiotics.

Make sure the child gets plenty of rest and ensure they take in adequate amounts of liquid. Use recommended doses of Paracetamol to control aches and pains.

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Coughs

Coughs are common with viral infections. They can either be dry (no mucus) or productive (mucus is formed). A dry cough may sometimes sound like a bark, where it is referred to as Croup, or wheezy and mimics asthma. A productive cough will lead to a rattly chest sound, as if mucus is being bought up. Younger infants will tend to swallow the mucus they produce, which may lead to vomiting with a bout of coughing. This is perfectly normal. Coughs in children can be very persistent and may last several weeks. In babies this may be due to a continuing presence of the infective organism, and in older children because of sensitisation of the mucus lining of the windpipe. With time the cough will pass and the child recover.

Please note - for the vast majority of coughs, antibiotics are of absolutely zero value to your child as most coughs are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses, only on bacteria - a different type of infectious organism altogether. Demanding antibiotics from your GP will not help your child, but will help to create antibiotic resistant strains of infectious bacteria, and drain resources from a limited drug budget.

Antibiotics will help if your child develops Bronchitis (an inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs) which is caused by a bacterial infection. A clue to whether your child has developed bronchitis and needs a course of antibiotics is the type of phlegm produced. With viral infections mucus is generally white or clear. A bacterial bronchitis infection creates large amounts of green or yellow phlegm, and it is recommended in this instance to consult your GP for an assessment and antibiotic prescription if bronchitis is diagnosed. For all other coughs, all that can be done is to alleviate the symptoms. Steaming and vapourising are effective in soothing sore throats caused by coughs.

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Diarrhoea & Vomiting

Most cases are usually due to a viral infection. The most important thing to remember is to avoid dehydration by providing adequate amounts of the correct type of fluid. Try to use fruit juice or flat lemonade or a rehydration formula such as Rehydrate or Dioralyte and, contrary to what many people believe, avoid pure or boiled water. Sweetened drinks are preferable because they are absorbed at around twice the rate of water. These drinks also contain essential salts and ions such as Potassium that are lacking in water. A sign that your child is ok and not overly dehydrated is the ability and need to pass urine.

Diarrhoea in very young children and babies needs careful attention. Most babies have loose bowel action during their first six months due to a predominantly liquid diet. Sudden bouts of unusually watery diarrhoea should be treated by taking the baby off solids and feeding them a solution of water with a teaspoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt. If symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, or are accompanied by vomiting or weakness, consult your doctor.

Most stomach upsets will pass in around 24 hours following this advice and your child will suffer no harm. If you are concerned about your child's diarrhoea you are of course welcome to seek a consultation at the Practice to rule out more serious causes.

If your child's diarrhoea or vomit should contain blood we recommend you seek medical attention from the Health Centre or Doctors on Call service.

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Earache

Earache can be a very uncomfortable experience with high pain levels and may require stronger painkillers than Paracetamol. 90% of cases of earache do not require an antibiotic prescription and will begin to resolve within a day or two. The most common cause is a virus that causes raised pressure in the ear and a feeling that the child is 'bunged up'.

The pain can be made worse by lying down as this raises the ear pressure further and can make sleeping difficult. It is recommended that the child should have their head propped up with pillows or cushions when in bed. If earache starts or worsens in the night, seek medical advice in the daytime, as earache is not an emergency situation.

The eardrum will occasionally rupture and expel pus and possibly a little blood, providing rapid pain relief as this allows a drop in the pressure within the ear. This is nothing to panic about and is the body's way of helping to alleviate itself of the problem. The eardrum will repair itself inside of 4 weeks, and the chances of resulting ear trouble are remote, but do consult your GP during normal hours if this rupture should occur.

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Fevers & Febrile Fits

Fevers are most often caused by viruses. The body's natural defence is to produce a fever to fight the infectious virus. The onset of a fever can be sudden, rapid and very high. However, the good news is that children who get high fevers have a greater tendency to show rapid improvement. Fevers will often come and go and be worse in the evening. Children will complain of feeling cold and of shivering as the body temperature is rising. As the fever lessens the child will appear red, sweat and complain of feeling hot. Paracetamol are also recommended to reduce the fever and make the child more comfortable, but they also assist in reducing the risk of febrile fits in the under six age group. These fits are extremely uncommon, and the fever a child develops is actually a benefit in ridding the body of the virus.

A febrile fit is a convulsion that can be very frightening for the child and parent alike, but is not in itself dangerous. Danger lies, as with all fits, in inhalation of vomit or swallowing the tongue. If your child should fit, lie them over your knees with the head facing down. When they have overcome the fitting process, reduce the child's body temperature by removing clothing and giving them Paracetamol. Phone your GP or Doctor-on-Call service for further advice, assistance and reassurance.

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Head Lice

Head Lice are very common in schoolchildren. Contrary to popular belief they prefer clean hair and are not a sign of poor personal hygiene. Their short life cycle and rapid breeding has allowed recent generations to develop strong resistance to chemical

We recommend trying a chemical lotion from your pharmacist in the first instance, combined with regular daily combing with a nit-comb or stiff bristle brush after washing the hair to damage nits which should prevent them laying eggs and multiplying.

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Meningitis

Meningitis

Many viruses will cause a persistent headache, but parents should be vigilant for the signs and symptoms of Meningitis as failure to diagnose and treat early can have serious consequences. The signs that a child's headache may be due to meningitis that you should look out for are:

Cold skin with a grey appearance. High levels of tiredness/drowsiness. The child cannot curl up and touch their chin to their knees. The most important warning sign to be aware of is the presence of a rash that resembles a love-bite with blood under the child's skin. This rash does not blanch when pressed with a clear object such as a glass.

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Sore Throats

As with coughs and colds, the majority of sore throats are caused by a virus, and therefore antibiotics will not help.

To alleviate the pain give your children Paracetamol or Cocodamol at the recommended doses and time intervals. Children over the age of twelve will find gargling with soluble Aspirin helpful, but children under 12 must not be given Aspirin.

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Worms

Thread worms are common in pre-school children (and occasionally trouble older children and adults). They are spread via hand to mouth contact. They appear as tiny cotton thread-like worms in a child's motions and can cause itching in a child's bottom. Whilst unpleasant, thread worm are not dangerous.

Ask at the Practice and we will write a prescription to clear the problem (infected adults can buy this medicine over the counter in pharmacies, but for safety reasons we ask you to consult with us when treating a child with these medicines).

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Viral Illnesses - Chicken Pox, Measles, Rubella, Mumps, Whooping Cough

We have grouped together the viral infections Chicken Pox, Measles, Rubella (German Measles) Mumps and Pertussis (Whooping Cough) together in a table, highlighting what signs to look for and what action to take if your child should develop any of these common childhood illnesses.

Virus Incubation Period Infectious Period Telltale signs Action to take

Chicken Pox

 ca. 14 days

From the day before rash begins - until spots are dry.

chicken pox blisters
Child complains of feeling unwell & develops a rash and possibly a temperature. Red spots are visible becoming fluid filled blisters after ca. a day. They start on the chest & back first then spread.. Lymph glands behind ears become 'lumpy'. Blisters become scabs which eventually drop off. Unless the spots/blisters are badly infected scarring is rare.

Visit to the Practice unnecessary unless you are unsure that it is chicken pox or the child severely distressed. Paracetamol are recommended as are a plenty of fluids. Loose, baggy clothing helps avoid itchiness, which can be further relieved with calamine lotion and lukewarm baths.

Measles

7-12 days

From a few days before rash - until 5 days after rash goes.

Measles
Child develops fever. After ca. 3 days a rash is visible with red, raised, blotchy spots that do not itch. The child feels very unwell and develops a high temperature and cough.

Measles normally last around 7 days. It is a rare illness now because of widespread uptake of MMR vaccination.

Contact the Practice. Plenty of bed rest is recommended. Fluid intake must be kept up, and warm drinks help relieve discomfort from the cough. Give recommended Paracetamol doses to reduce discomfort and lower temperature. Vaseline can prevent lips becoming sore. Ensure any 'crustiness' that forms around eyes is cleared with warm water

Mumps

14-21 days

Few days before feel ill - until swelling reduced (ca.10 days total).

Child may complain of earache, especially when chewing. Swelling becomes apparent under the jaw near the ears. Swelling often more prominent on one side, which may be followed by the other side also swelling.

Your child may not feel especially unwell, but will complain of swollen glands. Paracetamol will help to alleviate pain. Ensure the child has plenty of fluids, but not fruit juice as they increase saliva production which in turn increases pain levels from swollen glands. A consultation with your GP is not necessary unless your child's mumps is accompanied by stomach cramp and vomiting.

Rubella

14-21 days

From a few days before feeling ill - until ca. a week after rash appears.

Rubella
Rubella is hard to diagnose as it often starts out as a mild cold. A rash will appear within 2 days on the face and will spread. The rash is of flat spots that are pale pink in appearance. Rubella may also cause swelling in glands on the back of the neck.

As ever ensure the child is given plenty of fluids to drink. It is vital that you keep an infected child away from pregnant women as the virus is dangerous to unborn babies. A visit to the doctor is unnecessary

Pertussis 

(Whooping Cough)

7-14 days

From first signs of feeling unwell - until 6 weeks after cough begins.

Begins as a cough which gradually worsens leading to coughing bouts after ca. 14 days. The coughing fits can make breathing hard and leave the child exhausted. Always accompanied by a 'whooping'. The cough may not disappear for several weeks. It is easy to prevent your child contracting this disease with a simple childhood immunisation.

If your child develops a cough that worsens over time and if coughing fits get longer with increased regularity consult your doctor.  It is important to ascertain whether or nor your child has whooping cough.

go to the government's immunisation website

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