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    7 Common illnesses in childhood (and what to do about them)

    7 Common Illnesses in Childhood

    Kids constantly seem to be catching something.

    If it isn’t a cold or a dribbly nose of some sort, they may be complaining of a tummy ache, scratching at something or pulling their ears in pain. If you have a young child, here’s a list of some common childhood conditions you may (or hopefully, won't!) have to deal with.

     

    In this guide

    1. Coughs, colds and flu

    Your child’s nose is dribbling. They’re coughing and sneezing, have a bit of a temperature and seem unwell. If your child has recently started going to childcare, playgroup or school, this may feel like a never-ending story in your house. The good news is, these regular coughs and colds are helping to build your child’s immune system. Flu symptoms tend to be a little more severe than the common cold. It can leave your child feeling pretty unwell, achy and uncomfortable for a week or even longer.

    You can help your child feel more comfortable by:

    • Giving your child plenty of fluids to drink

    • Giving them an over-the-counter pain reliever (check you have the right dose and strength for your child’s age)

    • Keeping them away from smoke and anyone who smokes

    • For children over 6 years, over-the-counter cough medicines and throat lozenges are available

    • Speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about other ways to help

    Always encourage your child to practice good hygiene including:

    • Good hygiene – good hygiene includes washing your hands, covering your coughs and cleaning your home or workplace

    • Physical distancing – Find out how to practise physical distancing in public, at home, at work, and in schools

    Stay at home if you are sick – if you are unsure if you or your child should stay at home speak with your doctor.

    See a GP if you are concerned about your child’s symptoms or if your child:

    Is under three months and has a fever above 38°C, or if your child is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) due to a medical condition or medical treatment and has a fever above 38°C, even if they have no other symptoms.

    For all other children, take them to see a doctor if their temperature is above 38°C and they have any of the following symptoms:

    • a stiff neck or light is hurting their eyes

    • vomiting and refusing to drink much

    • a rash

    • more sleepy than usual

    • problems with breathing

    • pain that doesn’t get better with pain relief medication.

    Also take your child to a doctor if they:

    • have a fever above 40°C, but show no other symptoms

    • have had any fever for more than two days

    • seem to be getting more unwell

    • have had a febrile convulsion (fit that occurs when they have a fever).

    2. Asthma

    Asthma is a common reason children see a doctor. Asthma affects the airways, making it difficult to breathe and often presents with symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, and chest tightness. The severity of symptoms is different for each child with asthma.

    See your doctor if you think your child may have asthma. Your doctor may carry out some tests and ask about your child's symptoms to make a diagnosis. If your child has a sudden, severe onset of symptoms, seek medical attention. If your child is struggling to breathe, dial 000 immediately.

    3. Bronchiolitis

    Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection which affects babies and children under two years old. Early signs of bronchiolitis may include a mild cough and a runny or blocked nose. As it develops, your child may also have a slight fever, dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding, and rapid or noisy breathing.

    You should see your doctor if you think your baby has bronchiolitis.

    If your baby is having breathing difficulties or having trouble feeding, they may need to be admitted to hospital for observation and care. Take your baby to the nearest hospital if they develop symptoms of bronchiolitis and they:

    • were born prematurely

    • are younger than 10 weeks old

    • have chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, chronic neurological conditions or they are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system)

    • are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

    At home, you can care for your child by giving them plenty of fluids and keeping an eye on their breathing.14 If they have a fever and it is making them feel uncomfortable, you could give them over-the-counter pain relievers.

    4. Gastroenteritis

    Gastroenteritis is a common condition that causes diarrhoea and vomiting in children and is most often caused by a bacterial or viral tummy bug. The main symptoms of illness include, watery diarrhoea, feeling sick, vomiting (may be projectile) and mild fever. They may also have a loss of appetite, aching limbs and stomach upset. The vomiting may settle quickly but the diarrhoea can last up to 10 days. You can usually look after your child at home until he or she feels better.

    Ways to help care for your child at home, include:

    • giving them regular drinks or if breastfeeding, continue doing so.

    • giving them rehydrating solutions available from your pharmacist if they have signs of dehydration, which can come in pre-measured sachets or dispersible tablets that you mix with water

    • being very careful about hand hygiene to avoid passing along the infection. Use soap and water and use a clean towel to dry hands very well

    You should see your doctor if your child is under six months old (because they are at higher risk of dehydration).

    Any child with gastro should see their doctor if they are:

    • are vomiting and have diarrhoea, and are not drinking

    • have a lot of diarrhoea (eight to 10 watery poos, or two or three large poos per day)

    • if the diarrhoea is not improving after 10 days

    • vomit frequently and seem unable to keep any fluids down

    • show signs of dehydration e.g. fewer wet nappies or not going to the toilet much, dark yellow or brown wee, feel lightheaded or dizzy, have dry lips and mouth

    • have a bad stomach pain

    • have any blood in their poo

    • have green vomit

    • are making you worried for any other reason.

    5. Ear infection

    If your child is pulling at their ear or complaining of ear pain, listen up–they may have an ear infection. Ear infections are common in babies and toddlers (particularly after a cold), and most are caused by viruses which cannot be treated with antibiotics. Ear infections may be painful for children, and a child may rub or pull at their ears. Young babies may simply cry and seem irritable as they can’t always tell where the pain is coming from. They may also have a temperature and discharge coming out of their ear.

    To help them feel better, you can use over-the-counter pain relievers and don’t forget to give them lots of extra cuddles!

    If you think your child has an ear infection, always take them to see your doctor.

    6. Viral diseases like chickenpox

    Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella virus. It’s easy to catch chickenpox, and the main symptom is the rash–red spots that can appear anywhere on the body and fill with fluid before they begin to scab over. Blisters may burst, and some blisters may appear as others are scabbing over. Other symptoms your child may have, include a mild fever, feeling tired and irritable and itchiness. Your child will need to stay away from school or the childcare until all spots have crusted over.

    See your doctor if:

    • they get large, sore, red areas around the rash

    • they become increasingly unwell, are very drowsy, have a high fever or are not drinking

    • you are concerned for any reason

    7. Conjunctivitis

    Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that may affect children. If your child has conjunctivitis, they may have red or pink, itchy eyes that feel gritty; their eyes may water more than usual and might have a discharge which sticks to the lashes. Conjunctivitis that is caused by viral or bacterial infection is highly contagious.

    If allergies are behind your child’s conjunctivitis, their eyes may be red and watery, but they won’t be contagious. Children with allergic conjunctivitis may show other signs of hay fever, like an itchy or runny nose and sneezing.

    You can help prevent the spread of infection and care for your child while they have conjunctivitis by:

    • encouraging them to wash their hands frequently with warm soapy water

    • washing pillows and face cloths in hot water and detergent

    • asking them to try to avoid rubbing their eyes

    • not sharing towels or pillows

    • gently cleaning away crusty discharge with clean cotton wool soaked in warm water (use a clean piece of cotton for each eye, clean in one direction only – outwards from the inside [nose side] of the eye and discard the cotton ball after each clean)

    See a doctor if your child’s conjunctivitis isn’t getting better after two days, or if your child has any of the following:

    • severe pain

    • problems with their vision/eyesight

    • increased swelling, redness and tenderness in the eyelids and around the eyes

    • is generally unwell and has a fever

    • a persistent white spot in the cornea (the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye)

    Important information

    This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

    In this guide