The Most Common Illnesses Your Child Will Experience


There are plenty of things you can do to help your congested child breathe easier.

Many of these same suggestions are appropriate for babies and are listed under the section on newborn babies.  There are a few additional suggestions for older children given here.

Run a COOL mist humidifier in your child’s room.  Have it running at around 50% in their room or wherever they are sleeping.  Also, you can buy waterless plug-in vaporizers that release soothing menthol vapours to help breathing.  They require a pad insert that lasts for 8 hours and then will need replacing.  Refill packs are available.  You can find these at your local drugstore or discount store.   Set these up in your child’s room at least 30 minutes before bedtime.

When your child is getting changed for bed, apply a eucalyptus based soothing vapour ointment to his/her back and chest.  Be sure to purchase and use the kind that is child safe, meant for babies and children.  The adult version is only safe for ages 12 and up.  If your child will tolerate it, apply this ointment to the soles of their feet and then put on a pair of thin cotton socks.

Remind your child to blow your nose to get rid of the congestion (and not just sniff and keep it all inside.)  You may need to teach them how to do it correctly.  Some children have an aversion to tissues.  You could offer them a hankie or a dry washcloth.

Propping up can be helpful to relieve post nasal drip.  For children over the age of 3, place a fairly flat second pillow underneath their regular pillow.  Show them how to lay on it so that their entire back and head is propped up yet remains in a fairly straight line (don’t just prop the head or they will end up with very sore necks.)

Starting the day in a steamy bathroom is very helpful.  This may help start the nose running so they can really start blowing.

There are all kinds of decongestants, cough suppressants, and other medications available on the market.  If your child has a fever, be sure to choose one with a fever reducer such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist to help you choose what is best for your child’s age and symptoms, and always follow the dosage directions carefully.  Many of these are unsafe for children under 6.

You might wish to try nasal strips.  They were first marketed to adults who snore and are now available in children’s sizes.  Be sure to get the correct size for their nose, or they won’t work as well.  These strips are designed to help open the nasal passage and help the child to breathe more easily when they are congested.


If your child requires fever reducing medication, such as Acetamenophen or Ibuprofen, be sure to follow to package directions for your child’s age and body weight.

A fever means the body temperature is above normal.

Oral temperature over 99.5 degrees F or 37.5 degrees C is a fever.

Rectal temperature taking is no longer recommended to due possible injury to the rectum.

Many parents choose to use ear thermometers as they are very, very fast and painless.  You can often take your child’s temperature without even waking them up.  Ear temperatures change slightly with age.  For children ages 0-2, NORMAL temperature in the ear is 97.5-100.4 degrees F (36.4-38.0 C).

For children ages 3-10, NORMAL temperature in the ear is 97.0-100.0 degrees F (35.9-37.6 C).

For ages 11-65, NORMAL temperature in the ear is 96.6-99.7 degrees F (35.9-37.6 C).

Over age 65, NORMAL temperature in the ear is 96.4 – 99.5 degrees F (35.8-37.5 C).

Over 90% of fevers are due to a viral infection.  Fever is the body’s normal response to heal itself by cranking up the immune system.   With most viruses, the fever lasts 2-3 days and stays within the range of 100-104 degrees.  Beyond 104 degrees, the fever is no longer considered moderate and beneficial to the immune system.  You need to call the doctor and your child must be seen by a doctor with fevers of 105 F or more, however be assured that fevers do not cause brain damage until they get to 108 degrees.  There is a risk of seizure with fevers over 104 F, however, they do not cause permanent harm.

Give your child extra fluids, water, popsicles, heavily diluted juice, paediatric electrolyte drinks.  And dress them in very light clothing or pyjamas.  If your child feels very cold or is shivering, give them a light blanket.  Swadling them in heavy blankets will cause a higher fever.

Give fever reducing medication according to package directions for your child’s age or body weight.  Drugs are recommended only if fever is over 102 F or if the child is feeling especially sickly.  Acetaminophen can be given to children older than 3 months of age.  Ibuprofen can be given to infants over 6 months.  Do not give any kind of aspirin (even baby aspirin) to anyone under 21 years of age.

Sponge bathing for a fever is generally not necessary and do give medicine a chance to work first.  Sponging often causes shivering which is the body’s way of trying to raise its temperature.

If you choose to sponge bath your child, use lukewarm water (not cold).  Put your child in a safe and comfortable place.  The bathtub may or may not be the best choice depending on your child’s age and how he is feeling.  The evaporation from the skin will help your child to cool.  Their temperature will probably not go below 101 F.  Do not add rubbing alcohol to the water.


The flu is a highly contagious virus spread through an infected person through direct contact or via hard surfaces such as grocery cart handles, etc.  Symptoms of the flu include:  sudden fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, cough.  After the first few days general cold symptoms may appear such as runny nose, sore throat, etc.  Children and adults with the flu tend to feel much sicker than with a cold, they feel feverish, achy all over and very tired.

Give fever reducing medication according to package directions for your child’s age or body weight.  Acetaminophen can be given to children older than 3 months of age.  Ibuprofen can be given to infants over 6 months.  Do not give any kind of aspirin, even baby aspirin, to anyone under 21 years of age because of the risk of Reye Syndrome.

Give your child extra fluids, water, popsicles, heavily diluted juice, paediatric electrolyte drinks.  And dress them in very light clothing or pyjamas.  If your child feels very cold or is shivering, give them a light blanket.  Bundling them in heavy blankets will cause a higher fever.

Extra bed rest, lots of tender loving care, and light, easy to digest meals are in order.  They may have no desire to eat at all, but fluids are imperative to avoid dehydration.  Try offering them things like plain or buttered toast, applesauce, mashed potatoes, soup, crackers, chicken broth.

You may wish to consider having your family immunized for the flu.  There is a seasonal flu vaccine available every year to anyone over 6 months of age.  This vaccine is highly recommended for children and caregivers.

Please be aware that the flu vaccine may not be safe for anyone with an egg allergy.  It is best to speak to your allergist for your individual suitability.


Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial infection of the lining of the bronchi and bronchioles.  These breathing structures inside the lung become swollen and constricted.

The most distinguished symptom is severe coughing, following by quick deep breaths which make a whooping sound, especially in babies and children.  The child can become very short of breath and have blue-tinged lips.  Babies can quickly become exhausted from the coughing and lack of air.

Antibiotics will be required to treat the bacterial infection.

Take your baby or child into a steamy bathroom for 15-20 minutes.  Stay with her and inhale the warm, humid air.  Run a cool mist humidifier in her room at night or in the room in which she plays during the day.  Stay close by and monitor her breathing.

Your child may have whooping cough if she has the following symptoms.  Take her to the doctor for a diagnosis and antibiotics right away if:  She is under 6 months of age and has had no immunizations yet (see below),  she coughing heavily and has bluish lips, she is exhausted after coughing and seems very sick.

The best way to protect your family from whooping cough is with the DTaP vaccine.  This is given in several doses, at 2 & 4 & 6 months of age, plus boosters at 12 & 18 months, and at 4 or 5 years.

Chicken pox sores usually appear 10-21 days after exposure to the Varicella virus.

Symptoms of chicken pox include fever and skin sores.  Symptoms usually appear 10-21 days after your child was exposed to the (highly-contagious) Varicella virus, usually through contact with an infected child.  The pox start out as small red bumps about one quarter inch in size, which change to water blisters, then open sores which crust over.  New chicken pox continue to appear for 4-5 days.  The rash usually begins on the torso or head and can spread widely across the body even inside the mouth, eyelids and genitals.

Generally, one bout of chicken pox gives the child lifelong immunity and it is rare to get chicken pox a second time.  The blisters can leave temporary marks on the face which can take 6-12 months to fade.  Your child must avoid heavily picking at the sores or they may leave a permanent scar.

If your child acts or looks very sick, call your physician.  Also, see the doctor if the scabs become soft and drain yellow pus.

The fever associated with chicken pox can be treated with acetaminophen.  Ibuprofen is not recommended in this case.  Never give aspirin to children.

Cool baths for 10 minutes every 4 hours for the first few days can help with the itching.  Bathing does not spread the pox over the body.  Pat your child’s skin dry, do not rub the sores.  Very itchy spots can be treated with calamine lotion, massaged with an ice cube for 5 minutes, or you can ask your pharmacist about other topical treatments.  If itching is severe or interferes with sleep, an antihistamine can make your child more comfortable.

Children with sores inside the mouth may have difficulty eating.  Offer soft foods such as oatmeal, applesauce, mashed potato, etc.  Avoid acidic foods like tomatoes, oranges, and salty foods.

Please talk to your doctor about treatment for sores in the genital area.  This can be especially painful for girls when they urinate.  Your doctor may wish to do a consultation over the phone so you don’t have to bring your contagious child into the office and expose other patients.

The chicken pox vaccine can be given up to 5 days after your child was exposed to the chicken pox virus and can still help prevent or reduce the severity of the illness.


Shingles is caused by a reactivation of dormant chicken pox virus in the body.

Children over the age of 3 can develop shingles (zoster).  Shingles occurs when a dormant chicken pox virus is reactivated in the body.  Shingles is more common in adults over the age of 65.  Seniors should ask their doctor about the shingles vaccine.

Most children have no symptoms from shingles.  Some children will develop a rash that follows the line of 1 or more nerves on one side of the body only.  Red bumps change to water blisters that look like chicken pox, which will dry out and crust over.  New crops of shingles will come out for several days.  The rash is usually gone within 7-10 days.  Most children will have no fever.

Complications can occur if the eye or nose is involved and this is a major concern when it develops in seniors.  Acetaminophen can be given for pain if needed, or ibuprofen, but never give aspirin to children.

Children should be kept home from school for 7 days and be kept away from children or adults who have not had chicken pox and are not vaccinated.


Appendicitis is a painful infection and swelling of the appendix.  It is very uncommon in children under 5 years of age.  This condition can be very dangerous.  If the appendix were to burst, this can be life threatening for your child.

Symptoms of appendicitis include the following:
  1. Abdominal pain, usually beginning around the belly button and moving to the lower right side.  There may be increase in urination or pain with urination.
  2. Vomitting may occur several hours AFTER the stomach pain begins.  (Pain after vomiting is more likely the flu.
  3. Loss of appetite.
  4. The pain symptoms may stop for several hours which may indicate the appendix is starting to burst.

If you suspect your child may have appendicitis, please take them to your doctor right away.


Urinary tract infections are common in children, especially girls. UTIs include infection of the bladder (cystitis), of the kidney (pyelonephritis) and of the urethra (urethritis.) Bladder infections are the most common of the three types.

Symptoms of bladder infections include abdominal pain, painful and/or frequent urination, blood in the urine, possibly bed-wetting, and low grade fever.

Take your child to the doctor right away if you suspect she has a urinary tract infection. Your doctor will examine your child’s abdomen, collect a urine sample for examination, check her blood pressure, and if there is an infection, prescribe antibiotics. Be sure your child takes the full course of treatment (up to 2 weeks.)