Childhood Illnesses

Children are not little adults (click to close)

Children have not yet developed their body’s natural defences and therefore are far more prone to infections from bacteria and viruses than adults. As a result children often get sick. Most of the time there is no need to worry however a child that is unwell must be watched carefully as they can get worse very quickly. As a parent it is important to be diligent and understand the warning signs because unlike adults children don’t understand they are poorly.

What are the symptoms of a sick child? (click to close)

Healthy children are usually active and alert whilst a sick child will be more withdrawn than normal. They can be cranky, sleepy, and more in demand of your attention and affection than normal. They often lose their appetite.

General symptoms

  • General symptoms of a sick child are fever, pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, cough , headache and rash. For specific symptoms of common illness in children have a look at our easy reference table.

Raised temperature

  • When a child is running a fever they will have a raised temperature (above 37°C). This is an indication your child is fighting an infection, either viral or bacterial. Monitor any changes by taking a regular temperature reading with the thermometer.


  • Children’s pain can be from sore ears, teething, headache or injury. Sore throats, runny noses, coughs and headache may also cause distress so it can be helpful to talk to your local Haven Pharmacist about your child’s symptoms .

Vomiting and diarrhoea

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea is more serious for a child than an adult because they are at higher risk of dehydration due to losing fluids from their bodies. A Haven Pharmacist can help you treat and manage these symptoms or advise referral if necessary.

When should you see a doctor about your sick child? (click to close)

  • If your child still has pain or a fever(39°C or more) after 24 hours
  • Regular vomiting for over 24 hours
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea together
  • More than two very loose, smelly bowel motions in a day
  • Refuses two or more regular daily meals/feeds
  • Rubbing or tugging ear , crying or grizzling or has runny discharge coming from the ear
  • On going cough or wheeze, breathing more quickly than normal or grunting
  • Difficulty waking the child
  • Seizure or fit
  • Unusually floppy or pale
  • Develops a rash or stiff neck

Common illnesses in children that need a doctor (click to close)

Signs and symptoms Time from initial infection to the first signs of illness How long is your child infectious (taking special precautions, keeping your child out of school and away from other children) Managing your child during illness

  • High temperature
  • Small red spots forming on the trunk of the body first and then working their way outwards to the face arms and legs.
  • Spots form into yellow blister that break and crust over.
  • Blisters can appear in the mouth.
13-17 days For up to 5 days before the rash appears to roughly 7 days after when the blisters have dried up.
  • Making sure your child is getting plenty of rest
  • Using cotton mittens to prevent infants scratching and discouraging older children. This avoids leaving pock marks.
  • Using topical treatments such as calamine lotions and gels
  • Antihistamines given at night relieve itch.

  • Fever
  • Pain in the jaws and even ears
  • Obvious swelling of the neck and glands
About 12-25 days (usually days 16-18) One week before till 9 days after symptoms appear
  • Encourage rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating food that is soft and not painful to swallow

  • Flu like symptoms(runny nose, dry cough, fever)
  • Sore eyes
  • Rash- starting behind the ears and spreading down the neck onto the face and to the body
10-12 days From the first day of illness until 4 days after the rash appears
Other children who have not had measles or been immunised should be immunised within 24hours
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Bed rest and extra sleeping periods should be encouraged for about a week
Meningitis (bacterial)

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Red/purple spots or blotches or bruising that does not blanche under pressure
  • Babies may be difficult to wake or have a high pitched cry
2-10 days, usually day 3-4 24 hours after starting antibiotics – your child is not infectious
However people who have been in contact with your child in the last 10 days will also need treatment
  • Do not delay if your child is displaying these symptoms, go straight to your doctor and treatment will be started immediately
  • Symptoms may worsen rapidly
Croup (viral)

  • A high whistling noise on breathing in)
  • A barking cough is the hallmark of croup among infants and young children, whereas hoarseness predominates in older children.
  • Symptoms worse at night
  • Fever
  • Pale or blue tinged skin
The onset of symptoms can be gradual starting in the nose and then rapidly over 12-48 hours to fever and the rest of the symptoms For three days after the illness begins or until the fever is gone
  • Croup can either be mild and managed at home or more serious which means going to the emergency department for treatment .
  • Humidified air may relieve symptoms
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Keeping the child’s head elevated with a pillow
Scarlet Fever

  • Fever
  • Sore throat, swollen glands
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • White coating on tongue developing into a pink tongue with red spots (raspberry)


Rash appears 12 – 48 hours after onset of fever
Day 1 – 2: white coat over the tongue
Day 4 – 5: white coat disappears revealing raspberry tongue
24 hours after your child has been treated with antibiotics – your child is not infectious
  • Encourage drinking plenty of fluids
  • Offering food that is soft and easy to swallow

Find out more about childhood illnesses from your local Haven Pharmacist.