Common Illnesses In Children

Young kids often suffer from common childhood diseases such as cold, stomach flu and ear infection. Parents must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of these diseases and how to prevent them.

By Dr Santosh Datar

Common Illnesses In Children

Parents want their children to stay as healthy as possible, but the reality is far from this. Children, especially infants, are most susceptible to infections. The immune system of infants and younger children are not completely developed, and hence they are constantly battling a series of infections, which they are exposed to almost every day. 

Let's look at some of the common illnesses in children, the signs and symptoms and how to prevent these childhood diseases:

1. Cold and flu

Common Illnesses In Children

This is one of the most common and infectious illnesses children suffer from. On an average, school-going children contract a cold at least 6–10 times a year, and it lasts from a few days to two weeks.

What are the symptoms of cold and flu in children?

Cold and flu symptoms include fever, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, and body aches and pains.

How to prevent

The influenza vaccination will protect your child from the flu but not from other respiratory viruses. Children should be taught to cover the nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing. Handwashing is the most important method to prevent cold. Children should be taught to wash their hands before and after meals, after playing with other children or with pets, before and after wiping the nose, etc. Younger children tend to put toys in their mouth. These toys should be washed and cleaned regularly.

2. Hand, foot, mouth disease (HFMD)

Common Illnesses In Children

This is a common disease among infants and children below the age of five, as they do not have the immunity to fight the viruses. 

What are the symptoms of HFMD in children?

Symptoms to look out for include fever, rashes on the hands and feet, as well as painful sores in the mouth.

How to prevent

Till date, there is no vaccine for HFMD. But the risk of contracting it can be reduced by frequent washing of hands. Ensure that your child does not share his food and avoids contact with infected people. 

3. Conjunctivitis

Common Illnesses In Children

Conjunctivitis is a common and uncomfortable eye condition that can be caused by viruses, bacteria and irritants. 

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis in kids?

Conjunctivitis causes redness of the eye as well as a white discharge from the inner eyelid.

How to prevent

The most practical way to avoid conjunctivitis is by washing hands frequently with warm water and soap. Also make sure your child does not share towels, clothes, etc., with an infected person. In case this cannot be prevented, make sure to disinfect the items in order to avoid spreading conjunctivitis.

4. Stomach flu (Gastroenteritis)

Common Illnesses In Children

This is an infection of the digestive system, which is generally caused by germs and is not related to the common flu. It is medically termed as gastroenteritis. 

What are the symptoms of stomach flu in children?

Inflammation of the digestive tract results in symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and fever.

How to prevent

As stomach flu is highly infectious, prevent your child from coming in contact with an infected person. Teach her to wash her hands as often as possible, especially after using the restroom and before meals. Do not let her eat street food as the water could be contaminated and her body may not be developed enough to handle it. Another good habit is to discourage her from putting her fingers into her mouth without thoroughly washing them first. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them. Meat should be cooked well. Vaccination against rotavirus, which is one of the most common causes of stomach flu, can be given after consulting a paediatrician.

5. Ear infection

Common Illnesses In Children

An ear infection is an inflammation of the middle part of the ear, usually caused by germs, that develops when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Ear infections in children are one of the most worrisome conditions for both parents and children, especially if they are recurring.

What are the symptoms of ear infection in kids?

The symptoms include ear pain, drainage of fluid from the ear, trouble hearing and loss of balance. Babies with ear pain may develop a fever and may cry more than usual.

How to prevent

Studies have shown that babies who are around smokers are more prone to ear infections. Hence, it is best to avoid smoking when your child is around. Follow the vaccination schedule as prescribed by your paediatrician. Avoid bottle-feeding your baby when she is lying down.

6. Whooping cough (Pertussis)

Common Illnesses In Children

The whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the lungs and airways. The name is derived from the birdlike 'whooping' sounds that children who have the illness typically make when they’re trying to take deep breaths between coughs.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough in kids?

It initially starts with symptoms similar to those of a common cold – sneezing, runny nose and mild fever and cough. After a week or two, the child starts to develop fits of dry irritating cough with a characteristic whooping sound. The child may also struggle to breathe.

How to prevent

The best way to prevent a whooping cough is to vaccinate the child. Whopping cough can be dangerous in babies and children under the age of 18 months who have it should be constantly monitored. Continuous coughing could cause breathing problems in children. Whooping cough is extremely infectious. Ensure your child washes his hands before eating or in case he comes in contact with an infected person. Teach him to cover his mouth while coughing and sneezing to minimise the spread of germs.

7. Chickenpox

Common Illnesses In Children

Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella zoster and is highly infectious.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox in children?

Chickenpox often starts with a cold, a runny nose and cough, followed by the appearance of rashes a few days later. These rashes and outbreaks are itchy and uncomfortable.

How to prevent

The best way to prevent chickenpox is to vaccinate children against it. Vaccinating children with two shots before they turn thirteen is advisable. In case if one contracts chickenpox even after being vaccinated, there is no cause to worry, as in these cases the illness is usually mild.

Although these are the more common ailments children suffer from, parents need to be alert and keep an eye out for tell-tale signs of infection. Preventive measures can safeguard your child from diseases and may even reduce the severity of an infection. However, each child responds differently to infections and parents must consult a paediatrician when in doubt.

About the expert:

Written by Dr Santosh Datar on 18 August 2017; updated on 21 May 2020

The author is the Medical Director and Consultant doctor in a leading healthcare centre. 

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