Everybody gets ill from time to time, and for children it can happen quite regularly, as they are exposed to other kids’ germs and illnesses at school, nursery and playgroup.

However, for young children especially, it can often be hard for them to communicate what’s wrong and let their parents and other adults know if they are unwell.

This post details some common childhood illnesses and the symptoms, which could help with identifying what children may be suffering from, hopefully to make it easier to spot the signs in future.


Most people in the UK catch chickenpox as children and do not suffer any long-term effects. Symptoms appear between ten days and three weeks after exposure to someone with the condition. It is characterised by red, itchy spots or blisters that are usually scattered over the entire body, spreading to the arms, legs and face. The child has a moderate fever and mild flu-like symptoms prior to the rash becoming apparent. It’s also possible for some children to exhibit the symptoms early and not develop a rash.

People remain infectious until the spots have dried up and scabbed and are advised to stay away from public areas until they are cured after around two weeks. Chickenpox can usually be treated at home with paracetamol and calamine lotion.1

In the vast majority of cases, contracting chickenpox gives the individual immunity to the disease for the rest of their life, although one in four adults are then at risk of developing shingles later in life.2

Hand, foot and mouth disease

The condition is most common in those under the age of ten and should not be confused with foot and mouth disease, which affects cattle and sheep. Symptoms develop three to five days after exposure, with some of the initial signs including a fever, loss of appetite, a cough and a sore throat. After a day or two, painful mouth ulcers can develop and small, red spots can appear on the fingers, the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The conditions will generally clear up within seven to ten days, and can be helped along with paracetamol and plenty of fluids. To avoid passing on the infection, children should be kept at home and have plenty of rest to aid recovery.3


Measles is caused by a morbillivirus of the paramyxovirus family and passed on by contact with sufferers. The early symptoms include a runny nose, red eyes, swollen eyelids, sneezing and a fever. After a few days, a red-brown spotty rash generally appears, and lasts for around a week. It then develops behind the ears, before spreading around the head and neck, and eventually the rest of the body including the legs. The condition is preventable by vaccine, with UK children receiving two doses of the combined measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule.4

If you think your child is suffering from measles, you should contact your GP as soon as possible for advice.

Scarlet fever

The peak season for scarlet fever is between September and April, with significant rises in cases reported in recent years.5 A key reason for this is that many of the symptoms are consistent with flu symptoms. Scarlet fever is characterised by a slight to moderate fever, a sore throat and a flushed face. A characteristic rash is often located in the armpits or groin, and can spread to the torso and neck. This is typically slightly rough to touch and pinkish-red in colour. The child’s skin eventually peels and they develop a coarse, pink tongue – a condition known as strawberry tongue. Children suffering from scarlet fever should see a GP, who will prescribe antibiotics to help it clear up quicker and reduce the risk of the child infecting others. The condition will normally clear up within a week with antibiotics, and can be aided by drinking cool fluids and soft foods.


Acute tonsillitis is most common in children between the ages of five and 15 years and affects around 15 to 30 per cent of children.6 The main symptom of tonsillitis is a sore throat with red, swollen tonsils, but other common symptoms include white, pus-filled spots on the tonsils, pain when swallowing, fever, coughing, a headache, tiredness, pain in the ears or neck, and swollen glands in the neck. The condition usually clears up within a week, and symptoms can be alleviated with the use of throat sprays and lozenges, although the latter are not recommended for small children due to choking hazards.

Sufferers become more prone to future bouts of illness unless they have their tonsils removed, although this procedure is normally reserved for those who have been diagnosed with chronic tonsillitis.

This post is a guide to help in detecting illnesses your child may be suffering from – if you think your child is suffering from any of the above illnesses or anything else, either contact 111 for advice or speak with your GP.

1 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Chickenpox/Pages/Introduction.aspx#treatment
2 Vaccine Knowledge Project http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/chickenpox-varicella
3 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hand-foot-and-mouth-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx#prevention
4 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pages/mmr-vaccine.aspx
Gov.uk https://www.gov.uk/government/news/update-on-rising-scarlet-fever-across-england
6 BMJ Best Practice http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/598/diagnosis/step-by-step.html

Main Logo