6 Common Illnesses in Young Children

Caring for young children comes with its fair share of snuffles, coughs, and colds. While most childhood illnesses aren’t serious, it’s still worrying when your little one is under the weather. Here are 6 of the most common illnesses in children under 5 and how to spot the symptoms. 

Ear Infections 

Ear infections, also called otitis media, are very common in young children. The infection causes fluid to build up inside the ear, leading to pain and temporary hearing loss. Symptoms include tugging or rubbing of the ear, fussiness, fever, and trouble sleeping. Ear infections often happen along with colds or throat infections. See your GP if you think your child has an ear infection – they may prescribe antibiotics to clear it up. 

Colds and Coughs 

The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses, which is why children average 6-10 colds per year! Runny nose, congestion, sneezing, sore throat, and cough are classic cold symptoms. Coughs can linger long after the worst has passed. You can help soothe symptoms with children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen and make sure they drink plenty of fluids. Most colds run their course within 1-2 weeks. 


Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is inflammation of the outer eye and inside of the eyelid. The eyes become pink or red, with thick yellow or greenish discharge. Conjunctivitis is very contagious – teach your child not to rub their eyes and to wash hands frequently to avoid spreading. Bacterial conjunctivitis requires antibiotic eye drops from your GP to clear up. Viral types will run their course untreated within 2-3 weeks. 

Stomach Bugs 

Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, brings on diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and sometimes fever. Stomach bugs are often caused by viruses, like rotavirus or norovirus. They are extremely contagious and spread through contact or contaminated food/objects. Keep your child well-hydrated with electrolyte drinks. Seek medical advice if symptoms don’t improve after a few days or if your child shows signs of dehydration – such as dry mouth, lack of tears, or sunken eyes.  

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease 

This viral illness causes a rash of blister-like lesions on the hands, feet, and inside the mouth. It’s most common in children under 5 and spreads rapidly through playgroups and nurseries. The rash can be uncomfortable and may cause loss of appetite due to painful mouth blisters. It usually resolves itself in 7-10 days. Keep the children you are fostering with Fosterplus rested at home during the worst of it and offer soft, bland foods. 


Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. After an incubation period of 10-21 days, an itchy, spotty rash appears – first on the trunk then spreading across the body. Spots scab over after around 5 days. Most children recover in about a week but chickenpox can be more severe in babies so contact your GP if your child is under 12 months. Calamine lotion and cool baths can help soothe itching. Children are infectious from 2 days before the spots appear until they are completely scabbed over. 

Being prepared and knowing what to watch out for can make nursing your little one through the inevitable bugs and illnesses much less stressful. Trust your instincts – if you feel your child needs medical attention, don’t hesitate to see a healthcare professional. With your care and comfort, they’ll soon be back enjoying playtime with friends! 

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