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3 Common illnesses for kids — and how to treat them

Fact: kids get sick.

Our community pharmacists often receive calls and visits from concerned parents about the health of their children.

Here are three common illnesses that we see, with some guidance on symptoms and treatments:

Cough, cold and flu

The cause

The common cold is caused by viruses. There are lots of different viruses, but some of the most common ones are rhinoviruses. The flu is caused by influenza viruses.

A cough is the body’s way of getting rid of something that’s irritating the throat or respiratory tract. Coughs can be caused by infections, allergies, irritants like dust or smoke, asthma, or a buildup of phlegm.

Viruses are spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, releasing tiny droplets into the air. These droplets are either inhaled by other people or land on surfaces, and are then spread by touching the nose, mouth or eyes.

The symptoms

The symptoms of the common cold can include a runny or blocked nose, a sore throat, coughing or sneezing, headaches, and occasionally, fever.

Flu symptoms are similar but usually more severe, and also include aches, chills, and fatigue or weakness.

Coughs can either be chesty or dry — a chesty cough means that mucus is produced, which you won’t find with a dry cough.

What to do

Firstly, it’s a myth that antibiotics can treat a cold or flu virus. These will only be prescribed by your doctor if there is a secondary bacterial infection like pneumonia.

Viral infections like cold and flu will usually clear up on their own, but there are a few things that you can do to help relieve symptoms:

Panadol or ibuprofen can help with a sore throat, aches or fever. Be sure to give the right dosage for your child's age.

● Try a nasal spray or saline drops to relieve a blocked nose.

● Cough syrups and elixirs can help. Chesty cough products are usually formulated to help bring up mucus by thinning it out, whereas a dry cough formula typically helps to suppress the cough.

● If your child is old enough for lozenges, they can help to numb and soothe a sore throat.

● Give your child lots of liquids to help them stay hydrated.

● Run a hot shower and sit in the bathroom to inhale the steam, which can help with congestion.

If your child’s symptoms are getting worse, or they have chest pain, an earache, are having difficulty breathing or are struggling to keep down liquids or food, call your doctor immediately.

Vomiting and diarrhea

The cause

Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms of gastroenteritis, often called “gastro.” It’s an illness that’s typically caused by viruses, but it can also be caused by bacteria, toxins, or parasites.

It’s caught through close personal contact with an infected person or their bodily fluids. Vomiting and diarrhea may also be caused by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food (food poisoning).

The symptoms

In gastroenteritis, the bowel motions are watery, frequent and can be greenish-brown or tan in colour. Diarrhoea can last a week or more, but vomiting usually settles quickly.

Other symptoms of gastroenteritis can include cough or sore throat, fever, nausea, loss of appetite and headache. Signs of bacterial gastroenteritis include a persistent, high fever, severe stomach pain and mucus and/or blood in the bowel motion. If you suspect that your child has bacterial gastroenteritis, seek medical help.

Dehydration is another symptom and can be spotted through an increased thirst, dry mouth, passing small volumes of dark coloured urine, and dizziness.

What to do

One of the most important things to do is to prevent dehydration. If your baby is bottle-fed, give them clear fluids instead of formula for 12-24 hours, and then re-introduce formula when symptoms have improved.

Liquids should be sipped slowly and frequently. Water is preferable, but diluted juice, diluted lemonade or an electrolyte solution are also beneficial. Rehydration formulas are fortified with electrolytes that replace those lost through vomiting and diarrhea and are available as ready-made drinks, powders, effervescent tablets or ice blocks.

In some circumstances, your doctor or pharmacist may recommend a medicine called Loperamide, which can provide symptomatic relief.

Fifth disease

Also known as “slapped cheek disease”, fifth disease is a common illness for school-aged children. It’s caused by a virus called parvovirus B19 and is most common around early springtime.

The cause

It’s caused by a virus called parvovirus B19 and is most common around early springtime.

Much like the cold or flu, fifth disease is spread by personal contact or touching an infected surface.

The symptoms

The most well-known symptom of fifth disease is a red rash on the cheeks that lasts around seven to 10 days. There may also be a rash on the limbs or torso.

Before the rash appears, the child may experience flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, fever, fatigue, or headache.

What to do

Fifth disease should be treated similar to the common cold, with rest and plenty of fluids. You may wish to give the child ibuprofen or paracetamol to help relieve pain or fever.

If you suspect that your child is suffering from an illness, or want advice or guidance for how to treat their symptoms, visit your local community pharmacist for a chat, or give them a call to discuss your concerns.

For more information on children’s health, listen to our podcast episode with Magna, a pharmacist from Capital Chemist Lyneham.


You may also be interested in the following:

Kids and Colds
Vitamins for children
5 ways to help kids manage stress

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Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.