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Childhood illnesses


Find out about common childhood illnesses including symptoms, remedies and who to contact for help.

Childhood illnesses - A quick overview




What to do


The best choice to treat very minor illnesses, ailments and injuries

  • Grazed knee
  • Sore throat
  • Coughs and colds (runny nose)

Keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet. You can treat minor illnesses and injuries at home by using the recommended medicines and making sure your child gets plenty of rest.

NHS 111

For 24-hour health advice and information

As a parent:

  • If your child is unwell
  • If you are unsure/confused
  • If you need help

Call 111 when it is less urgent than 999.


Can provide expert advice and treatment for common illnesses and injuries

  • Mild diarrhoea
  • Mild skin irritations (spots/rash)
  • Mild fever
  • Headaches
  • Bites and stings
  • Painful cough

To find your local pharmacy and its contact details visit

GP/Out of hours GP

For care outside normal hours, ring your GP practice. When it is closed, a message will direct you to extended hours or out-of-hours services

  • High temperature
  • Head injuries (not involving loss of consciousness)
  • Persistent cough
  • Minor bumps and cuts
  • Dehydrated
  • Vomiting

For the treatment of illnesses and injuries that will not go away. Your GP can provide a range of services by appointment

Paediatric Nurse Practitioner

If you can't get a same day, or next day, appointment with your child's GP, you can contact us. 

We offer your child an appointment  at one of our dedicated clinics, across Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale

Tel: 01706 676777

More about Paediatric Nurses

Walk-in centre/Urgent care centre

  • Severe pain
  • Worsening health conditions

Use for urgent, but not life threatening situations


Should only be used for serious and life-threatening emergencies

  • Choking/breathing difficulties
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fitting
  • Severe bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Fever and they’re lethargic
  • Swallowed poison or tablets

Call 999 or take your child to your nearest A&E


If your child has a fever, he or she will have a body temperature above 38°C (100.4°F). You should take their temperature from their armpit (always use the thermometer under the armpit with children under 5, never use it in the mouth). However, bear in mind these measurements are less accurate as the armpit is slightly cooler.

  1. My toddler is hot and grumpy.
  2. Have you tried sugar-free infant paracetamol or ibuprofen? Have you made sure they are drinking lots of fluids?
  3. If their temperature remains over 38°C (100.4°F) and doesn't come down, contact your GP.

Babies under 6 months

Always contact your GP or health visitor if your baby has other signs of illness, as well as a raised temperature and/or if your baby's temperature is 38°C (100.4°F) or higher.

Older children

A little fever isn't usually a worry. Contact your GP if your child seems unusually ill, or has a high temperature which doesn't come down.

  • It's important to encourage your child to drink as much fluid as possible. Water is best.
  • Bringing a temperature down is important because a continuing high temperature can be very unpleasant and, in a small child, occasionally brings on a fit or convulsion.

How to help reduce a temperature

  • Undress to nappy/pants.
  • Keep room at a comfortable temperature (16°C to 20°C).
  • Encourage your child to drink more (little amounts often).
  • Give sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen in the correct recommended dose for your child.

GP tips

When looking after a feverish child at home you should:

  • Get the child to drink more (where a baby or child is breastfed, the most appropriate fluid is breast milk).
  • Look for signs of dehydration such as, reduced wet nappies, dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, poor overall appearance, sunken soft spot on the top of the head in babies.
  • Know how to identify a non-blaching rash.
  • Check your child during the night.

You should contact your GP if fever symptoms are not improving after 48 hours. Check your child during the night.

Coughs, colds and flu

Flu can be more serious than a cold and leave your child feeling quite unwell. Flu tends to come on more suddently and severely than a cold. Your child may feel achy and uncomfortable, and be ill for a week or more.

  1. My child keeps coughing and sneezing, has a mild temperature and seems generally unwell.
  2. Have they recently started nursery? Catching colds is very common. Have you spoken to your pharmacist about suger-free paracetamol and cough medicines?
  3. If symptoms last for more than 10 days or your child is coughing up yellow 'goo' they may have an infection. Contact your GP.

Don't pass it on

Catch it - Germs spread easily. Always carry tissues and use them to catch coughs or sneezes.

Bin it - Germs can live for several hours on tissues. Dispose of your tissue as soon as possible.

Kill it - Hands can pass on germs to everything you touch. Clean your hands as soon as you can.

Things you can do at home to help

  • Give your child lots to drink.
  • Try sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen (not aspirin).
  • Keep them away from smoke or anyone who smokes.
  • Talk to your pharmacist but remember that coughing is the body's way of keeping the lungs clear.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sleep/rest.

See you GP if

  • Your baby has a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or more.
  • They have a fever with a rash.
  • They are not wqaking up or interacting.
  • Your child is finding it hard to breathe.
  • Persistent temperature does not respond to medicine.

Pharmacist tips

Children can often be treated using over the counter medicines to help to bring down a raised temperature. Sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. Check the label carefully. Some are available as a liquid for children and can be given from the age of three months.

Check with the pharmacist and tell them how old your child is. Flu symptoms are more severe and you may need to see your GP.

Wheezing and breathing difficulties

Any kind of breathing difficulty your infant or child experiences can be scary for parents. It is often nothing to worry about and illnesses like bronchiolitis, mild croup and a cough can often be treated at home.

  1. My child with croup has a distinctive barking cough and makes a harsh sound when they breathe in.
  2. Comforting your child is important as symptoms may worsen if they are agitated or crying. Mild cases of croup can be managed at home. If your child has a fever, children’s sugar-free paracetamol will help lower their temperature.
  3. If symptoms get worse, contact your GP.

Newborns and babies

  • Rapid breathing or panting, which is common. If there is no other sign of illness, it comes and goes and your baby is breathing comfortably most of the time, there’s normally no need to worry.
  • Breathing may sound a bit rattly. Try holding your baby upright.
  • Occasional coughing or choking which may occur when a baby takes in milk too quickly with feeds. Try to slow things down a bit. Check feeding position.
  • A cold or mild cough. Keep an eye on them at this stage and use your instincts. If you are worried, talk to your health visitor.

Older babies and toddlers

  • Coughing, runny nose, mild temperature - (see "coughs colds and flu" section).
  • Croup (hoarse voice, barking cough) needs to be assessed by your GP and may need treating with steroids.


Bronchiolitis is a common respiratory tract infection that affects babies and young children under a year old. The early symptoms are similar to those of a common cold and include a runny nose and cough.

As it develops, the symptoms of bronchiolitis can include a slight fever, a persistent cough and difficulty feeding.

Symptoms usually improve after three days and in most cases the illness isn’t serious. However, contact your GP or health visitor if your child is only able to feed half the normal amount or is struggling to breathe, or if you are generally worried about them.

GP tips

Get help and contact your GP now if your child:

  • Seems to find breathing hard work and they are sucking in their ribs and tummy.
  • They can’t complete a full sentence without stopping to take a breath.

Get help and call 999 or take them to A&E now if:

  • Their chest looks like it is caving in.
  • They appear pale or even slightly blue-ish.

Upset tummy

Sickness and diarrhoea bugs are caught easily and are often passed on in places where there are lots of children.

If your child is not vomiting frequently, is reasonably comfortable in between and you are able to give them frequent small amounts of water, they are less likely to become dehydrated and probably don’t need to see a doctor.

If you’re breastfeeding, keep on doing so even more frequently. Offer older children plenty of water, or an ice-lolly for them to suck. If they want to eat, give them plain foods like pasta or boiled rice (nothing too rich or salty).

  1. My baby has diarrhoea and is being sick.
  2. Have you given them lots of water? This will help prevent them becoming dehydrated if it is a tummy bug. Speak to your pharmacist and ask about a rehydrating solution.
  3. Speak to your GP if symptoms show no sign of improvement after 24 hours or straight away if they are newborn.

Signs of dehydrarion

  • Less wet nappies (for example, they wee less).
  • More sleepy than usual.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of the head that is more dipped in than usual).

Pharmacist tips

There are lots of ways you can care for your child at home. Things to try are:

  • Give them regular drinks - try small amounts of cooled boiled water. Breastfeed on demand if breastfeeding.
  • Being extra careful with hand hygiene (use soap and water or antibacterial hand gel and dry hands well with a clean towel).
  • Rehydrating solutions come in pre-measured sachets to mix with water. It helps with dehydration.

Speak to your GP if they are unwell for longer than 24 hours (or sooner if they are newborn) or if you notice signs of dehydration.


Constipation is a very common problem in children. Many children normally pass stools as far apart as every few days. Regardless, you should treat hard stools that are difficult to pass and those that happen only every three days as constipation.

  1. My bottle-fed baby gets constipated.
  2. Try cooled, boiled water between feeds.
  3. If the problem persists, speak to your health visitor or GP.

Ask your health visitor for advice. In rare cases, constipation can be due to an underlying illness, so if the problem doesn’t go away in a few days, it’s important to talk to your GP.

Health visitor tips

To avoid constipation and help stop it coming back, make sure your child has a balanced diet including plenty of fibre such as fruit, vegetables, baked beans and wholegrain breakfast cereals.

We do not recommend unprocessed bran (an ingredient in some foods), which can cause bloating, flatulence (wind) and reduce the absorption of micronutrients. Drink plenty of fluids.

General tips

Constipation is very rare in babies who are solely breastfed, but not uncommon in babies who have formula, or who have solid foods. Ask your health visitor or pharmacist for advice on treatment.

Make sure you are making up the formula powder with the correct amount of water. Some formulas are specially targeted at babies who have minor constipation - your health visitor can discuss your options.

If your baby is already on solid foods, then the juice or the fruit itself should be fine for providing relief. Fruits, such as apples, pears and prunes, contain sorbitol which is a natural laxative, helping the lower bowel retain water, which helps the poo stay soft and easy to pass. For younger babies, check with your health visitor before you start giving anything other than milk.

Earache and tonsillitis

Ear infections can be painful and your child may just need extra cuddles and painkillers (such as sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen) from the pharmacist. Your child may have swollen glands in their neck - this is the body’s way of fighting infection.

Tonsillitis - earache can also be caused by tonsillitis (the inflammation of the tonsils). It is a common type of infection in children. Symptoms include a sore throat, earache, coughing and a high temperature. It is not a serious illness and you only need to see your GP if symptoms last longer than four days or become more serious, with severe pain, a very high temperature or breathing difficulties.

  1. My toddler has earache but seems otherwise well.
  2. Have you tried sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen from your pharmacist?
  3. Most ear infections get better by themselves. Speak to your GP if symptoms show no sign of improvement after 24 hours, your child seems in a lot of pain or you notice fluid coming from the ear.

Signs of an ear infection

The signs are a raised temperature, general irritability and pain or discomfort. The ears may be red and your baby may pull them because they are uncomfortable. They may even have a pus-like discharge, which can also be associated with a blocked feeling in the ear or hearing loss.

Although most ear infections settle down without any serious effects, there can be mild hearing loss for a short time (two to three weeks).

How to reduce ear infections

  • A baby’s ears need to be treated with care.
  • Never use a cotton bud inside your child’s ear.
  • If they have a temperature, wax may ooze out.
  • Use different, clean damp cotton wool on each ear to gently clean around the outer area.
  • Avoid smoky environments.
  • Do not use ear drops or oil unless prescribed by your GP.
  • If your child is still not hearing six weeks after infection, your GP or health visitor can refer them to audiology for further investigations.

Chickenpox and measles


Chickenpox is a mild and common childhood illness. It causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters, which crust over to form scabs, and eventually drop off.

Some children have only a few spots, while others can have spots covering their entire body. These are most likely to appear on the face, ears and scalp, under the arms, on the chest, tummy and on the arms and legs.

Paracetamol (sugar-free) can help relieve fever and calamine lotion or cooling gels help ease itching. Chickenpox usually gets better on its own. However, some children can become more seriously ill and need to see a doctor.

Contact your GP straight away if:

  • Blisters become infected.
  • Your child has chest pain or difficulty breathing.


Measles is a very infectious, viral illness which, in rar e cases, can be fatal. One in five children with measles experience complications such as ear infections, diarrhoea and vomiting, pneumonia, meningitis and eye disorders.

There is no treatment for measles. Vaccination is the only way of preventing it, so make sure your child has their MMR vaccination. Speak to your health visitor.

Symptoms develop around 10 days after you are infected and can include:

  • Cold-like symptoms.
  • Red eyes and sensitivity to light.
  • A fever.
  • Greyish white spots in the mouth and throat.

After a few days, a red-brown spotty rash appears. Starting behind the ears, it then spreads around the head and neck before spreading to the rest of the body. If there are no complications, symptoms usually disappear within 7-10 days.

Help to make your child comfortable:

  • Close the curtains/dim lights to help reduce light sensitivity.
  • Use damp cotton wool to clean eyes.
  • Give sugar-free paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • Ensure they drink lots.

Contact your GP if you suspect you or your child may have measles.


If your child is in pain or has a high temperature (fever), you can give them paracetamol. Do not give ibuprofen to children with chickenpox because it may increase the risk of skin infection.

Aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16.

Health visitor tips

Do not forget to keep up-todate with immunisations to protect your child from measles (MMR vaccination). It is never too late for your children (or you) to catch up with the MMR vaccination if they missed it earlier.


An allergy is when the body has a reaction to a protein such as foods, insect stings, pollens, house dust mites or other substances such as antibiotics. There are many common allergies.

Allergic symptoms can affect the nose, throat, ears, eyes, airways, digestion and skin in mild, moderate or severe form. When a child first shows signs of an allergy, it is not always clear what has caused the symptoms, or even if they have had an allergic reaction, since some allergic symptoms can be similar to other common childhood illnesses.

Urticaria (wheals or hives) can be one of the first symptoms of an allergic reaction. If the reaction is severe, or if the symptoms continue to re-occur, it is important that you contact your GP.

  1. Food allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts negatively to a particular food or food substance.
  2. Allergens can cause skin reactions (such as a rash or swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes), digestive problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea, and hayfever-like symptoms, such as sneezing.
  3. Children are most commonly allergic to cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, peanuts and other nuts, such as hazelnuts and cashew nuts.

Spotting symptoms


Itchy eyes, watery eyes, prickly eyes, swollen eyes, ‘allergic shiners’ - dark areas under the eyes due to blocked sinuses.

Nose, throat and ears

Runny nose, blocked nose, itchy nose, sneezing, pain in sinuses, headaches, post-nasal drip (mucus drips down the throat from behind the nose), loss of sense of smell and taste, sore throat, swollen larynx (voice box), itchy mouth and/or throat, blocked ear and glue ear.


Wheezy breathing, difficulty in breathing, coughing (especially at night time), shortness of breath.


Urticaria - Wheals or hives, bumpy, itchy raised areas, rashes.

Eczema - Cracked, dry or weepy, broken skin.


Swollen lips/tongue, stomach ache, feeling sick, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, bleeding from the bottom, reflux, poor growth.


Antihistamines are probably the best known type of allergy medication, and most are readily available from a pharmacy without prescription. While antihistamines used to have a reputation for making people drowsy, more modern antihistamines only occasionally have those side effects. Check the packet for details.

Anaphylactic shock

Anaphylaxis is a dangerous type of allergic reaction that is most likely to be caused by particular foods, insect bites or medicines.

Early signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Swelling and itching; the face may be flushed and wheals or hives may erupt on the skin.
  • Lip or facial swelling.
  • Acute vomiting/abdominal pain.

Anaphylaxis or severe reactions:

  • Difficulty breathing, coughing and/or wheezing.
  • Loss of colour; cold and clammy.
  • Loss of consciousness (may appear asleep).

Call 999 and tell the operator you think the child has anaphylaxis.

If available, an adrenaline injection should be given as soon as a serious reaction is suspected. If your child has an EpiPen or injection device, make sure you know the correct way to use it in advance of an emergency.

Meningitis and sepsis

Babies and toddlers are most vulnerable as they cannot easily fight infection because their immune system is not yet fully developed. They can’t tell you how they are feeling and can get a lot worse very quickly. Keep checking them.


This is a swelling around the brain. It is a very serious, contagious illness, but if it is treated early most children make a full recovery.


This is often called septicaemia or blood poisoning. It is a life threatening condition triggered by an infection. The skin may also develop pinprick bruises or large purple areas, which do not change colour if you roll a glass tumbler over them. This is a common sign of meningococcal septicaemia, a type of blood poisoning caused by the meningococcus bacteria, which can also cause meningitis.

The glass test

If you press the side of a clear glass firmly against the skin and the rash does not fade, it is a sign of meningococcal septicaemia. This is called a non-blanching rash - it does not fade. Contact a doctor immediately. If you cannot get help straight away go to A&E.

The signs

Early signs may be like having a cold or flu. Children with meningococcal septicaemia can become seriously ill very fast, so make sure you can spot the signs. Your child may have a cluster of red or purple spots. Do the glass test.

This rash can be harder to see on darker skin, so check for spots over your baby or child’s whole body as it can start anywhere (check lightest areas first). However, the rash is not always present - be aware of all the signs/symptoms.

You should always treat any case of suspected meningitis or septicaemia as an emergency.

GP tips

If any of the signs below are present contact a Doctor:

  • Fever, cold hands and feet.
  • Floppy and unresponsive.
  • Drowsy and difficult to wake.
  • Spots/rash that dont fade with the glass test.
  • Rapid breathing or grunting.
  • Fretful, dislikes being handled.
  • Unusual cry or moaning.

The presence of fever and any other of the above symptoms should be taken extremely seriously. Not all children will show all the signs listed.

Who to contact for help

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