The 10 Most Common Childhood Illnesses (and how to treat them)

Child's illness - a young girl wwith sinus infection

Childhood is a magical time filled with laughter, curiosity, and boundless energy. However, it’s also a period when children are more susceptible to various illnesses. As a parent or caregiver, it’s essential to be informed about the most common childhood illnesses so you can provide the best care for your sick child and protect yourself.


In this guide, we walk you through 10 of the most common childhood illnesses, their causes, symptoms, and treatments. It’s time to safeguard your family’s health from childhood illness.

Head Lice

Head lice infestations are a frequent issue, particularly in school-age children. These tiny, parasitic insects live on the scalp, where they feed on blood. While not harmful to health, head lice can be bothersome and highly contagious. They are mostly found in hair near the scalp and lay small, oval eggs (nits) on hair shafts.

Head lice spread primarily through direct head-to-head contact, which is common among kids at school. Sharing personal items like combs, brushes, hats, or headphones can also contribute to the spread of head lice. Symptoms include itching on the scalp, neck, and ears caused by an allergic reaction to lice bites. Spotting lice or nits in the hair is also a telltale sign.

Treating Head Lice

To get rid of head lice, first, use a special lice shampoo from the store. After that, comb through the hair with a fine-toothed comb to remove the dead lice and eggs. Do this combing every few days for a couple of weeks. Remember to wash all the bedding, clothes, and hats in hot water and give the carpets and furniture a good vacuum to pick up stray lice or eggs. If the lice don’t go away, you might need to talk to a doctor for stronger treatments. 

A child undergoing treatment for head lice.

Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Gastroenteritis, often known as stomach flu or gastro, is common, especially in children and adults with weakened immune systems. This illness is caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites infecting the stomach and intestines. 

Gastroenteritis mainly spreads through contaminated food or water and close contact with an infected person. Poor hand hygiene can also play a significant role in its transmission. Symptoms typically include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and headaches. Dehydration is a key concern, especially in young children and older people. How long does gastro last?

Treating Gastroenteritis

Just like many common childhood illnesses, it’s key to stay hydrated when dealing with gastro. Drink plenty of fluids like water, broth, or oral rehydration solutions. Avoid dairy, caffeine (energy drinks), and spicy or fatty foods, as they can worsen symptoms. Eat bland foods like toast, rice, bananas, and applesauce as you feel able. Rest is important, and over-the-counter medications through the hub.health portal can be helpful. However, it’s best to consult a doctor before using them, especially for children.

A child experiencing symptoms of gastro - vomiting.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye,” is a common eye condition that affects people of all ages. It involves inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane lining the eyelid and covering the white part of the eyeball. 

The causes of conjunctivitis vary; it can be viral, bacterial, or even allergic. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious, spreading through direct contact with an infected person or through contaminated surfaces. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by allergens like pet dander, pollen or dust mites.

Symptoms include redness in one or both eyes, itchiness, a gritty feeling in the eyes, discharge that forms a crust during the night, and tearing. Proper hygiene, avoiding touching the eyes, and not sharing personal items like towels can help prevent its spread.

Treating Conjunctivitis

Treating conjunctivitis depends on its cause. If it’s bacterial, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Viral conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own in a few days, and you can use warm compresses to relieve discomfort. If allergies cause it, antihistamine eye drops or allergy medications can help. 

A child with conjunctivitis, pink eye.

Influenza (Flu)

Influenza, widely known as the flu, is a common respiratory illness affecting people of all ages. It’s caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The flu can range from mild cold-like symptoms to severe or serious illness and complications, especially in high-risk groups like the elderly, young children, and those with certain health conditions.

Influenza spreads through tiny droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Treating Influenza

To deal with the flu-like symptoms, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids like water and soup. Over-the-counter medicines can help with symptoms like fever and aches. If you’re someone who might get really sick from the flu (like older people, pregnant women, or those with certain health issues), your doctor might give you special flu medicine. 

A girl with the flu - sneezing into a tissue.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a cviral illness that primarily affects children under five but can also occur in older children and adults. It’s caused by viruses belonging to the Enterovirus group, most commonly the Coxsackie virus. This illness is known for being contagious but usually mild in nature.

The disease spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions, saliva, fluid from blisters, or stool. It’s also transmitted by touching contaminated objects or surfaces. Outbreaks are common in places like daycare centres and schools.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, and reduced appetite at the onset. A day or two later, painful sores can develop in the mouth, and a rash with blisters may appear on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks. Despite these symptoms, most children recover in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.

Treating Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

To treat hand, foot, and mouth disease, focus on staying comfortable and hydrated. Drink fluids like water or ice chips, and eat soft, non-spicy foods. To ease discomfort, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (available via the hub.health portal). Get plenty of rest and try to keep any rash or blisters clean and uncovered. 

The symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease - blisters on feet.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection primarily affecting school-aged children but can occur in people of all ages. It’s caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A streptococcus. Known for its rapid onset and contagious nature, strep throat is distinct from a typical sore throat caused by a cold.

This infection spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be picked up from surfaces or objects contaminated with these droplets and then touching the nose or mouth.

Symptoms of strep throat include a sudden, severe sore throat, pain when swallowing, fever, red and swollen tonsils, sometimes with white patches or streaks of pus, tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Unlike a common cold, strep throat usually doesn’t cause a cough or runny nose.

Treating Strep Throat

To treat strep throat, you’ll need antibiotics from a doctor to kill the bacteria. How long does it take for antibiotics to work? Antibiotics typically start working within 24 to 48 hours, but it may take several days to feel the full effects, depending on the type of infection and antibiotic used. Always finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you feel better. You can also take pain relievers like ibuprofen to help with the sore throat and fever. Drink lots of fluids and eat soft foods. Gargling warm salt water can make your throat feel better, too. 

A young boy being diagnosed with strep throat.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It often develops from a cold or other respiratory infection and is prevalent in adults and children. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, less commonly by bacteria, and tends to be temporary. 

The infection spreads similarly to colds and flu, mainly through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated with these droplets and then touching the face.

Bronchitis symptoms include a cough that produces mucus (which may be clear, white, yellow, or green), fatigue, shortness of breath, slight fever and chills, and chest discomfort. The cough can last several weeks, even after other symptoms have improved.

Treating Bronchitis

Treating bronchitis involves managing symptoms and supporting the body as it heals. For acute bronchitis, this means plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and using a humidifier to help loosen mucus. Over-the-counter medications like cough suppressants and pain relievers can alleviate symptoms. However, antibiotics are not typically used since most cases are viral. 

A child being diagnosed with bronchitis.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, often called “mono,” is a common viral infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes known as the “kissing disease” due to its transmission through saliva, but it can also spread through respiratory droplets or sharing drinks and utensils. Mono is most prevalent among teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it.

The symptoms of mono can vary and may include severe fatigue, fever, sore throat (often mistaken for strep throat if not tested), swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits, swollen tonsils, headache, and skin infection or rash. Some people might also experience an enlarged spleen or liver. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and typically develop four to six weeks after exposure to the virus.

Treating Mononucleosis

If you’ve got mono, the best thing to do is rest and get plenty of sleep. Drink a lot of water and juices to stay hydrated, especially if you have a fever. For a sore throat, try gargling salt water or sucking on throat lozenges. If you’re feeling achy or feverish, over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen can help. Take it easy and avoid strenuous activities, as mono can make your spleen swell up. If it hurts to swallow, you have a high fever, or if symptoms aren’t improving, visit your doctor. 

A teenage boy experiencing fatigue and symptoms of mono.

Ear Infection

Ear infections are common, particularly in children, but they can affect people of all ages. These infections typically involve the middle ear and are often caused by bacteria or viruses. This can occur when fluid builds up behind the eardrum, often following another illness like a cold, allergy, hay fever, or upper respiratory infection.

The primary symptoms of an ear infection include ear pain, which can be sharp, sudden, or persistent, a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, and hearing difficulties. In children, symptoms may also include irritability, difficulty sleeping, and fever. In some cases, fluid drainage from the ear is also observed.

Ear infections can spread easily, especially among children in group settings like daycare or school. They can be acute or chronic, with chronic ear infections potentially leading to more serious complications like impaired hearing.

Treating Ear Infections

Often, the body clears an ear infection on its own, but sometimes you might need antibiotics, especially for children or if it’s really painful or lasts a while. To deal with the pain, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen can help. It’s also a good idea to rest and stay hydrated. If it’s not getting better or you’re in a lot of pain, check in with a doctor. They might prescribe stronger medication or melatonin to help you sleep. And if it’s your little one who’s sick, keep an eye out for fever or if they seem extra fussy since they can’t always tell you what’s wrong.

A young boy getting an ear infection diagnosis from the doctor.

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection, primarily known for affecting children, although it can occur at any age. It’s caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is most famous for its itchy, red rash that turns into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters eventually crust over and heal. 

The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash or the air by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be transmitted by touching virus-contaminated objects. The symptoms start appearing about 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Aside from the telltale rash, other symptoms include fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of unwell. The rash typically starts on the chest, back, and face before spreading to the rest of the body.

While chickenpox is usually mild in children, it can be more severe in adults and can lead to complications. Vaccination is the b

est protection against chickenpox. Most people who have had chickenpox or the vaccine develop immunity to the virus.

Treating Chickenpox

Treating chickenpox mostly involves easing symptoms and staying comfortable while the body fights off the virus. Over-the-counter pain relievers (you can find these in the hub.health portal) can help with fever and discomfort, but avoid aspirin in children. Itchy skin can be soothed with calamine lotion, antihistamines, or oatmeal baths. Staying hydrated is important, especially for children who might eat and drink less when unwell. 

Whether you’re dealing with gastro, the flu, bronchitis or mono, hub.health is your one-stop online shop for pharmacy items. Available through the patient portal, simply find the products you need, and we’ll deliver them to your door! We’re always on standby for online medical certificates and prescriptions online.

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