hand foot mouth disease symptoms

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease

When your child comes home from preschool with a letter stating that a child in their class has been diagnosed as having hand, foot, and mouth disease, panic may set it.  If you’ve never heard of this illness before, the name can seem quite ominous! Hand, foot, and mouth disease is one of the most common (and contagious) childhood illnesses. 


The disease is named for the characteristic breakouts of ulcers in the mouth and a blistery rash or sores that occur on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet as well as around the mouth.  This illness often occurs in small outbreaks in schools and daycares because of how contagious it is. Due to its contagious factor, schools will often let you know if someone in your child’s class has it. 


Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Symptoms


The first thing you’ll want to know is what symptoms to watch out for.  If your child shows any of these, especially if you’ve been notified by the school of a classmate who’s had the disease, keep them home from school.  Look out for characteristic flat or raised red marks that appear, usually on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and around or in the mouth, as well as ulcers in the mouth and/or back of the throat.  Other common locations for the rash can be the buttocks and the groin area. These sores or blisters can be itchy, but itchiness is more commonly experienced by adults who get the disease rather than children.  Fever, nausea, sore throat, headache, and/or vomiting can also occur with hand, foot, and mouth disease. You may notice that your child has a poor appetite because of difficulty swallowing due to the ulcers in the mouth or throat.  In an infant or toddler, you’ll probably notice that they’re more irritable than usual and could have more drooling because they are not swallowing their saliva well due to the sore throat or mouth.


Hand, foot and Mouth Disease Treatment 


There’s currently no medication or vaccine for hand, foot, and mouth disease, so treatment involves doing things to keep your child comfortable, maintain hydration, and prevent the spread to other family members or classmates. You should:

  • Keep your child home from daycare or school and away from public places.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with very warm soapy water after every time you handle your child, and throughout the day in general.
  • Disinfect toys and other items used by your infected child with a water/bleach solution, and don’t allow them to share things with siblings until they heal. 
  • Avoid close contact with your child as much as you can.  We know that can be impossible with babies and toddlers due to needing to be carried, nursed, and comforted. 


The good news is that it’s uncommon for adults and older children to contract the disease because usually by age 10 you’ve built an immunity to it, although it is still a possibility!  While it is mainly caused by coxsackievirus, other viruses have been known to cause hand, foot, and mouth disease as well. So, your child may have the illness more than once.


If your child is uncomfortable or develops a fever, some acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help.  Also, cool liquids may soothe the throat. Popsicles that are mostly water are a good choice for sore throats or mouth pain and they keep children hydrated.  Dehydration due to not drinking well (because of the sore throat or mouth pain) is the most common complication from hand, foot, and mouth disease. 


When to take your child in to the doctor


Taking your child in to see his or her pediatrician for a specific diagnosis is always a good idea to rule out any other illnesses and to have an official diagnosis.  Because dehydration is a concern with hand, foot, and mouth disease, keep a look out for the following symptoms: dry lips, dry mouth, no tears while crying, decreased urine output or number of wet diapers, and severe fatigue.  If the mouth pain or sore throat is severe, your child may require a special mouthwash or oral solution to decrease the pain, if ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not providing enough pain relief. So, if you care concerned about dehydration, the severity of the sore throat or mouth pain, or have any other concerns about your child’s illness, bringing your child to your pediatrician or local pediatric urgent care is recommended.

The disease should run its course in three to six days, but may last a little longer.  Make sure to inform your child’s school or daycare if they attend one, so that teachers or caretakers can keep an eye out for it in other children and disinfect surfaces.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you’re welcome to bring your child in to MVP Pediatric and Urgent Care and we can check your child out.