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Common illnesses

common illnesses in children

30 of the most common illnesses in children

Learn more about common childhood illnesses and medical conditions, like measles, mumps and the common cold.


This is uncomfortable as it is an excess of mucus in the nose and throat. It may result from a common cold, measles, hayfever, or sinusitis. It could also result from an allergy.

Your child will have a running nose, cough, may vomit and ongoing nasal congestion. They may be irritable. Babies may not feed well.

Consult your doctor if catarrah persists – especially if it is an allergy. You should sort out what is causing the problem because your child can get very run down and tired. They will miss out in various ways both at school and socially if it in is on going.



This is a contagious disease most common between the ages of 2 and 4. It lasts about two weeks and causes red blister-like scabs over the body. They will appear on the tummy first and spread to the arms and legs.

Your child will feel unwell and may have a temperature. The spots will be ichy - try NOT to let your child scratch them as this can cause scaring.

You can place calamine lotion onto the spots. In babies leave their nappy off as long as possible. Cut your child’s fingernails short to avoid scratching – maybe put on gloves if they will accept them. Give your child some paracetamol ( remember to check the right dosage), and ensure they drink as much as possible.

DO NOT send your child to school and keep them AWAY from anyone who is pregnant.



Constipation begins once your bay is onto solid foods. To avoid constipation your child should be eating a healthy diet which includes fresh fruit and vegetables and a good daily intake of water.

If your child in constipated it can be very painful. They will have hard pebble-like stools, pain in the lower stomach and there may be blood in the nanny or underpants due to straining.

NEVER GIVE YOUR CHILD LAXATIVES unless advised by your doctor. These can be very harmful in the long term. Ensure your child eats food containing fibre (wholemeal bread, fruit, and bran cereals).

If your child is continually constipated see your doctor. There is a condition which prevent the proper contraction of the bowel wall due to a lack of nerve cells.



This is the inflammation of the membrane which covers the eyeball. Your child may have a viral /bacterial infection or be allergic to something they have come into contact with.

Your child’s eyes will feel red and sore, they will be itchy. Bright lights may be uncomfortable and after sleeping the eye may be sticky and difficult to open.

You should find out what is triggering the reaction – if it is an allergy the source needs to be found. Consult your doctor.


Cradle Cap

This is a harmless form of dandruff. It shows itself through crusty yellow patches on the scalp. It occurs mainly in babies and through children up to the age of about 6. Cradle Cap has nothing to do with poor hygiene.

You can remove cradle cap by smearing olive oil, baby oil or vaseline onto the scalp over night – gently shampoo it off in the morning. Do not rub the scalp hard.

If the cradle cap becomes infected your child may require antibiotic treatment.



Coup in an infection normally resulting from a common cold or bronchitis. It causes a swelling at the back of the throat along with difficulties in breathing. It usually occurs in young children up to the age of 4. Older children have wider air passages and the condition is less serious and known as laryngitis.

Croups can attack at night and can come on rapidly lasting a couple of hours. You will notice it by a distinctive bark or croaking cough. There may be a shortness of breath and wheezing.

It is important to watch small children if they have croup as breathing may become difficult and could be life-threatening. Your child will be restless / irritable and have excessive saliva, as well as blueness of lips and face. They will draw for breath below the rib cage in as effort to get more oxygen.

If you notice any of these signs you should take your child to the nearest Accident and Emergency department in a hospital.

The above is rare - most croup is uncomfortable but not serious and can be treated at home.



This is caused by an excessive amount of sugar in the blood. It is caused by a shortage of insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, and control the absorption of sugar for use in growth and energy.

The cause for diabetes in children is not known but it is thought to be due to some damage to the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas possibly by a viral infection.

Symptoms include, excessive thirst, tiredness, frequent passing of urine, weight loss, irritability, smelly breath.

Treatment is for your child to replace insulin through daily injections. Your child’s diet will need to be monitored and a specialist dietician should be consulted.



This is caused by an irritation of the intestines – frequent watery stools will be passed.

Diarrhea can lead to dehydration and should be taken seriously in young children.

Let your child sleep it off but with easy access to the toilet. Give them frequent amounts of liquid, but avoid acidic drinks. Do not give them food or milk until they feel better and then introduce simple foods such as yogurts and soups. Check their temperature. Wipe their face and body with a cool damp cloth.

If your child has diarrhea for more than 12 hours call your doctor.



This could be an infection of the middle ear – where the Eustachian tube which is a small tube that runs from the ear to the throat gets blocked. Or, an infection in the outer ear due to a disturbance or boil type infection.

If your child complains of earache, check to see is they have a fever, if there is any discharge from the ear, if they can hear properly and if there is any inflammation.

Try not to let the ear get wet in the bath and go to see your GP.



This is an allergic reaction and the skin responds with a rash, itchy scaly area. It can also materialise as a greasy secretion.

Eczema can be caused by a reaction to food in particular dairy products, eggs and wheat. It can however be caused by an allergy to pets, dust mites or chemicals - like washing powders. In some cases Eczema is related to an emotional upset.

Some forms of Eczema tend to be within family groups – i.e. allergy to food or surroundings. Often these children will also suffer from asthma.

Other forms of Eczema are due to over reacting sebaceous glands and can be treated.

You should consult your doctor to discuss your child’s condition. You will be asked about your family’s medical history, about your child diet and whether you have any pets.



Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is a form of gastroenteritis caused by a bacterially contaminated food. E Coli is the most common food poisoning in babies. Salmonella and staphylococci are also common.

The term food poisoning is also used if a child eats any chemical, insecticides or certain plants.


Symptoms from food poisoning will occur quickly and usually vomiting and nausea will result. There may also be stomach cramps, diarrhea, temperature and possible weakness and chills.

Consult your doctor immediately if you suspect food poisoning especially in babies and small children. It can lead to rapid dehydration.

Try to remember what might have caused the poisoning. Most food poisoning will pass without complications – allow your child to sleep it off but let them rest on their side incase they vomit.

When cooking remember to always defrost foods well, never reheat meat, be careful about hygiene and always wash your hands before making up feeds or cooking.


German Measles

This is a viral infection and can last about 3 weeks. It is infectious.

German Measles is often difficult to detect as it starts out like a common cold. Your child may have a slight temperature.

After a day or two a rash will appear starting behind the ears them spreading to the forehead and the rest of the body. The spots are flat and pale pink in appearance. Eventually this will spread into a large patch of redness rather than spots. Swollen glands may result. It lasts about 2-3 days and does not usually cause any serious symptoms. (the infectious period however is about 1 week either side of the rash).

IMPORTANT: The main danger of German Measles is to pregnant women. It causes blindness and deafness in the unborn child. KEEP YOUR CHILD OR ANYONE IN CONTACT WITH GERMAN MEASLES AWAY FROM A PREGNANT WOMAN.


Glue Ear

This is when the Eustachian tube which is a small tube that runs from the ear to the throat gets filled with a fluid as a result of an infection. The fluid becomes glue like when it cannot drain away.

Your child will feel uncomfortable and may have earache and a headache. He/she may also be slightly deaf in the glue ear.

Your should go and see your doctor if your suspect Glue Ear – if it is not treated it can result in loss of hearing which in turn causes speech and developmental problems.



This is similar to asthma except that it is an allergy whose reaction occurs in the nose and eyes.

It will cause sneezing, a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes.

Spring and summer are the worst months for hayfever and is due to pollen from flowers and grasses.

Some hayfevers are all year round and are due to pets or house dust and mites.

If the hayfever is severe your doctor should arrange for a series of test to be carried out to identify the allergen. Desensitizing injections can be given which will calm down the reaction. It will allow for a better quality of life.


Head Lice

Head Lice are tiny parasitic insects which live on human hair. They are irritating but can be eradicated and are not serious.

You can buy a detector comb from the chemist – wet comb your child’s hair twice a week.

There is also a louse repellent spray but this must not be used if your child has asthma or under the age of 2.

DO NOT use either of the above unless your child has head lice. You will notice your child scratching their scalp, there will be a redness on the back of the neck, and you will notice nits while combing the hair (tiny white pearl like eggs at the root of the hair).

DO NOT treat a baby under 6 months without consulting a doctor. Otherwise, wash the hair and comb through with a detector. Keep your child away from school, inform the nursery/school so that the health authorities can be told. Examine and treat the rest of the family.


Heat Rash

Heat Rash is common in babies because they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Heat Rash is no due to sunlight but will arise if the body becomes overheated and the skin responds with an excessive production of sweat.

A faint red rash will appear most commonly on the face, neck and shoulders. Also in the creases of the skin behind the knees, in the groin area and under the arms. It is not serious and will soon disappear. However for babies check that their room is not too hot and that there is sufficient air flow. Do not overdress your baby especially at night and use natural textures near to their skin.

If the rash is persistent call your doctor.



This is the inflammation of the larynx (voice box). The infection is caused by a bacteria or virus. It occurs in older children and adults. In smaller children and babies it is known as Croup.

Laryngitis is not serious and usually lasts about a week. Your child will have a sore throat and dry cough. They may experience loss of voice and a fever.

Laryngitis may go on to develop into tonsillitis or bronchitis.

Give your child plenty of warm drinks and prevent them from talking too much. Keep an eye on their temperature and keep their bedroom fairly humid.



The symptoms of measles are similar to a common cold. A child may catch measles simply by breathing in airborne moisture coughed out by an infected person.

Your child will develop a fever, running nose, sore throat, cough and red eyes.

A few days late white spots will appear in the mouth.

Brown /red spots will then appear behind the ears and these may merge into a rash over the face and upper body.

You should call your doctor and give your child plenty of fluids.



If you think your child has meningitis, get medical help at once. Meningitis is rare but it is dangerous and although the HIB vaccine protects against one type of bacterial meningitis, there are several forms of the disease which do not have vaccines. However, if it is detected and treated early, the majority of children who contract meningitis make a full recovery.

The symptoms in babies are as follows:

• high temperature

• refusing feeds, vomiting, high-pitched moaning cry

• convulsions

• difficult to wake

• pale blotchy skin or a rash or tiny spots

• bulging of the fontanelle (the soft spot on top of the head)

The symptoms in toddlers and older children are as follows:

• headache

• vomiting

• high temperature

• neck stiffness (often shown as reluctance to put chin on chest)

• pain in the joints

• drowsiness

• confusion

• dislike of bright lights

• rash of purple spots or bruises (press a glass over the rash to see if it turns white. If it doesn’t, it could be meningitis.

Remember, not all symptoms appear at one time.


Mouth Ulcers

Ulcers can occur due to stress, a physical injury like biting your cheek or from an infection.

Children can be stressed if they are to embark on something unusual or something they feel uncomfortable with – sometimes the beginning of school. In these cases ulcers are small creamy-white lumps in the mouth anywhere on the tongue, gums or lining of the mouth. They will disappear but may be painful and can easily reoccur.

If the inside of the mouth is injured through a bite or knock, even a rough tooth rubbing against the side of the mouth. Ulcers can appear as a red/yellow indented sore. These will again be painful but will clear up within a fortnight.

If an infection is present – may be due to a cold sore or virus – the ulcer will look like white blisters which may also cause a fever.

Nothing can really be done about ulcers – they are painful and may cause a lack of appetite.



Mumps is caused by a virus and lasts about ten days.

Your child will feel unwell for a day or two before any major symptoms appear. The symptoms will be:

• Pain when chewing or swallowing acidic liquids – fruit juices

• Pain around the ear

• Headaches

• Fever

• Chills

• Poor appetite / difficulty in swallowing

• Swelling starting under the jaw by the ear and may be on one side or both

Contact your GP, have plenty of fluids and relieve the discomfort with paracetamol ( from 3 months only.)



A nosebleed occurs when small blood vessels on the inner surface of the nose break. This can easily happen in children and the condition is rarely serious. A nosebleed may occur if your child has blown their nose hard or through sneezing, especially if they have a cold or hayfever. They may have knocked or picked their nose or have an allergic reaction. All these conditions should pass without too much concern but if a nosebleed persists consult your doctor. Some dizziness may occur. They may also cough up some blood – there is no need for alarm, it is most probably the result of blood trickling down their throat.

To treat a nosebleed sit your child down with his/her head forward. Apply a firm pressure to both nostrils – squeeze until the bleeding stops. DO NOT push anything into the nose to try to stop the bleeding – not even cotton wool. Try to avoid your child blowing their nose for least a couple of hours after a nosebleed.


Sore Throat

If you child complains of a sore throat he/she may find it difficult to swallow and/or is off their food. A sore throat is an infection to the respiratory tract.

Your child will most probably have enlarged tonsils and the next glands may be swollen. ( you can feel this may gently pressing on either side of the neck – you will feel a small lump either side) They may also have a fever.

You should keep your child off school and allow them to rest. Let them drink plenty of fluids and if necessary liquidise their food.



A babies teeth will come through at about 6 months. By the time they are 18 months they will usually have a their set of first teeth. Some children’s teeth are a little later, some earlier.

As the teeth come through your baby will dribble a lot more and want to bite everything in site. They may be irritable and want to cling to you more than usual.

You can ask your chemist for a soothing gel to rub on your babies teeth or give them a teething object that will be a comfort. Some of these can be left in the fridge and the coolness provides further comfort.

If your baby is really uncomfortable and is not able to sleep ask your doctor to prescribe a mild analgesic to relieve the pain.



Tonsilitis is a bacterial infection. The tonsils become infected and inflamed as they try to prevent bacteria from passing into the respiratory tract.

Your child will have a sore throat, find it difficult to swallow, have red inflamed tonsils, a temperature and swollen neck glands.

Sometimes tonsillitis causes an infection in the middle ear.

Give your child plenty of fluids. Against popular thought gargling may cause an ear infection so avoid this. Call you GP who may prescribe some antibiotics.


Whooping Cough

This is a viral infection. Whooping Cough begins like a common cold and cough. The cough gradually gets worse and coughing bouts begin. These are exhausting and can make it difficult to breathe ad cause choking and vomiting. Your child may also have a slight fever, runny nose, aches and pains and feel generally run down. They may also be very tired as coughing may keep them awake at night.

Whooping Cough can be very dangerous in babies – it is rare however as immunisation in now routine. A severe attack can damage the lungs and cause bronchial infections. Vomiting can also cause dehydration.

A doctor should treat Whooping Cough. Antibiotics will be prescribed and close relatives and friends may also have to take them.

To help your child through Whooping Cough, be patient. When a coughing bout occurs help them by patting them on the back as this loosens the mucus. Offer plenty of fluids and meals should be small and frequent and soft!

Whooping Cough is very dangerous for babies or small children – sleep in the same room as them.

AVOID contact with other babies or small children.



Nearly all children will get diarrhea and will vomit at some stage. Do not be concerned but watch over them closely and follow these suggestions:

• The illness will most probably be brief

• It could however make the child dehydrated (watch this carefully especially with babies)

• When dehydrated babies and children first become irritable then loose interest and become lethargic. Their eyes can be sunken and skin very dry. You may be able to pinch some skin and instead of it bouncing back, it will remain upright.

• See a doctor if you are worried

• Most mild dehydration can be treated at home – make sure you give your child plenty of fluids. They may not readily accept it but always have it at hand. Moisten their lips.

• In severe cases a rehydration fluid can be given – which can be bought from a chemist. They contain a mixture of salt and sugars which is dissolved in water.

• If in any doubt always call your local GP.


In addition to these common illnesses, there are other more serious medical conditions including:


Autism affects the way a child communicates and relates to other people. Early signs include not fixing his or her eyes on your face, resisting being cuddled, and a delay in speaking and hyperactivity. 1-3 autistic children never learn to talk. You may have noticed that as a baby there was probably trouble with feeding and a general developmental delay.

Austic children are not able to make much sense of the world around them and cannot communicate normally. They do not know how to judge how others are feeling through body language and have difficulty with social interaction. You will notice that a child with autism is unable to play with other children.

Some autistic children lack imagination – they cannot role play, as in pretending that a doll in a baby. They get on best with routine and repeated rituals.

For more information call the National Autistic Society 020 7 833 2299.


Cerebral Palsy

This is a condition that is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain either in late pregnancy or during birth.

Severe Cerebral Palsy may be noticed at birth but lesser degrees can be hard to detect until your child becomes older. Some children will have minor difficulties while others will be affected more severely. Nearly half will have difficulty in speech and in learning.

Movement is the main problem and can range from:

• Spastically – the muscles are very tight and contract unusually when a child tries to move

• Athetosis – muscles move involuntarily and uncontrollably

• Ataxia – balance in poor and walking is unsteady

• Tremor – shaking occurs when a child tries to move their limbs

A Cerebral Palsy specialist will need to be consulted.

Cystic Fibrosis

This is a hereditary disease. Most cases are detected soon after birth. In Cystic Fibrosis the body makes an excess of sticky mucus in the lungs, bowel, pancreas, sweat and salivary glands. This prevents nutrients in food from being properly absorbed.

Symptoms will include:

• Poor growth

• Frequent chest infections

• Excessive salt in sweat

• Bowel problems – babies may have sticky stools which cause an obstruction. In some babies the bowels may become blocked. There may also be some vomit of bile and abdominal swelling.

The treatment is enzyme supplements, regular chest physiotherapy and antibiotics. Vitamins will also be required.

A high calorie diet is needed as the child is not able to absorb all food eaten.

For more information call the Cystic Fibrosis Trust 020 8 464 7211



There are two main types of deafness – conductive deafness and nerve deafness.

Conductive deafness means that the transmission of sound through the ear is obstructed.

This may happen if one of the ears is blocked or damaged

: by wax

: by an inflammation

: by damage – sometimes caused by the perforation of the eardrum through pressure caused by flying or injury

The treatment is to clear the wax or to treat the infection. A doctor advice should be sort. If the eardrum is damaged through pressure a small slit to the eardrum may be necessary under an anesthetic.

Nerve deafness is a problem contained within the inner ear. The nerve that sends impulses from the ear to the brain, or within the brain is damaged or has not formed adequately. This form of deafness is most typically present from birth.

A hearing aid may be necessary.

There may be a problem with your child’s hearing if the following milestones are not met. (children develop at different stages so do not be concerned immediately your child reaches these dates.)

• 6 months: your baby does not respond consistently to sound

• 1 year: your baby has not started babbling with sounds or else started and has stopped

• 2 years: your child does not make two-word phrases or start to echo what they hear

• 2.5 years: you cannot understand what your child is saying

• 3 years: your child is not making sentences or starting to learn rhymes or stories off by heart.



Epilepsy is repeated convulsions or seizures that occur over a period of months or years. You should consult your doctor if you think your child has had a fit.

Epileptic convulsions are caused by a burst of abnormal electrical impulses in the brain.

• Tonic-clonic seizures is where the child becomes unconscious, goes stiff, falls over and the limbs may shake uncontrollably. It may also be associated with tongue-biting and incontinence. The seizure is followed by a period of drowsiness and the child will probably have no memory of the incident.

• Absence seizures is when the child suddenly stops what he or she is doing, looks vacant, appears to stare and then carries on as if nothing has happened. An on-looker may think they are day dreaming. At school they may report the child is looking into space and not concentrating.

If you recognise any of these symptoms you should consult your doctor so that specialist treatment may be applied.

If you are with a child who is having a seizure then place them in the recovery position and protect them from any harm that may be around them, especially sharp objects or fire. Take note of the circumstances so that you can recall it to a specialist doctor. Consider medication if this is recommended. Ensure your child maintains regular and sufficient meal times, sleep and exercise. Let siblings, relatives, teachers know of your child’s condition so that they can understand and are able to cope with a seizure.


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