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8 common children’s health problems

20 March, 2020
How to avoid common children's health problems

1. Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the most common cause of respiratory infections in children. RSV causes an infection of the lungs and breathing passages.

If your child has RSV, they will show symptoms similar to a cold including a runny nose, coughing and a fever. Most often, treatment will include rest at home and drinking small amounts of fluids regularly.

You should see a doctor if your child has a high fever, if their nose is filled with mucus and they are having difficulty eating or drinking, or if they start coughing up mucus. If your child becomes dehydrated, it’s also important to take them to see a doctor.

You’ll need to call an ambulance on 000 if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • have trouble breathing
  • start turning blue
  • start breathing very quickly

It’s difficult to stop RSV spreading, but practicing good hygiene is very important to reduce the risk. It’s important to encourage thorough handwashing and to not allow children to share drinks, cutlery or toys. Your child should wash their hands each time they blow their nose to prevent the germs spreading.

2. Ear infections

Ear infections are common in small children and often resolve on their own within a week or two. They can cause earache and temporary hearing loss. Middle and out ear infections are common in children and are caused by either bacteria or viruses.

You should take your child to see a doctor if your child is in a lot of pain, if the symptoms don’t improve or if there is pus or fluid coming from their ear.

The Royal Australia College of General Practitioners (RACGP) recommend not using antibiotics to treat middle ear infections in non-indigenous children between the ages of 2-12 unless there are signs of the child being generally unwell.

To reduce the risk of your child getting an ear infection, it’s important that your child never puts anything in their ears, even if they feel blocked. They should not use ear drops unless they are prescribed by a doctor or recommended by a pharmacist.

3. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis (gastro) is a bowel infection that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It leads to diarrhoea and sometimes vomiting. The vomiting may stop quickly, but the diarrhoea can last for up to 10 days. Gastroenteritis can be caused by many different germs, although the most common cause is a viral or bacterial infection.

If your child has gastroenteritis, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • headaches
  • vomiting in the first 24 to 48 hours
  • no appetite
  • stomach pains
  • fever

Most children with gastroenteritis can be treated at home with the main treatment being lots of fluids. Babies under 6 months should always be seen by a doctor if they have gastro. Children should not return to school until 48 hours of the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.

To prevent gastroenteritis, it’s important that to wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing nappies and before handling food.

4. Roseola

Roseola Infantum is a viral infection that usually occurs in babies and children between 6 months and 2 years old. It causes a high fever.

Symptoms of roseola in your child can include:

  • a mild sore throat
  • a sudden high fever
  • swollen neck glands
  • a rash of pink, raised spots on their chest, tummy and back

The most problematic issue that can arise from roseola is the risk of febrile convulsions. Symptoms of febrile convulsions include:

  • unconsciousness
  • several minutes of twitching or jerking in the arms, legs or face
  • loss of bladder and bowel control

If your child has a convulsion that lasts longer than five minutes or won’t wake up after a convulsion, you’ll need to seek emergency medical assistance immediately by calling 000.

You’ll need to see a doctor if your child experiences a convulsion shorter than five minutes, seems very drowsy or confused, has a severe headache or a headache with a stiff neck, or the rash looks purple in some places. You should also take them if the child has a high fever or is refusing to drink.

You can reduce the risk of contracting roseola by washing your hands regularly and practicing good hygiene. There isn’t a vaccine to prevent roseola.

5. Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection in children. It’s highly contagious and can cause the following symptoms:

  • inflammation of the eye
  • redness of the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye and inner surface of the eyelids
  • yellow or green discharge from the eye
  • crusty eyelashes
  • itching or burning eyes

You should take your child to see a doctor if the condition doesn’t improve within hours. If it’s a viral infection, it will improve without any treatment, but if it’s a bacterial infection, it will need treatment with antibiotic eye drops.

If a child has conjunctivitis, it’s best that they try not to touch their eyes. They should also wash their hands regularly to reduce the risk of it spreading.

6. Asthma

Asthma is a common condition in Australia that affects the lungs. If your child has Asthma, they may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • wheezing sound when they breathe
  • breathlessness
  • tight chest
  • coughing, especially at night or and in the early morning

If you think your child may have asthma, it’s important to see your doctor. They will take a medical history for your child and order some lung function tests.

Asthma isn’t preventable, but there are measures your child can take to help to reduce the symptoms. Your doctor can help you learn about triggers such as dust, exercise, house dust mites, pollen and pets. They can also recommend treatment options including preventative medicine and develop an asthma action plan.

7. Hand, food and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral condition that causes blisters on the hands, feet and mouth. It is not the same as foot and mouth disease that affects animals.

Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease generally last around seven days and include:

  • fever
  • tiny blisters on the cheeks, gums and sides of the mouth
  • tiny blisters on the hands, feet and nappy area
  • a sore throat

There is no treatment for the condition, but you should encourage your child to drink plenty of water, and rest as much as possible. You should also leave the blisters to dry naturally and not try to squeeze them.

To reduce the risk of hand, foot and mouth disease, it’s important that your child regularly washes their hands thoroughly. You’ll also need to wash your hands if you touch any of their bodily fluids. Your child should also not share items such as cutlery and drinking cups. It’s best to keep your child home from school until the all the fluid in their blisters dry.

8. Threadworm or pinworm

Threadworm, or pinworm infection is a highly contagious condition that mainly affects children. Most commonly, children get infected when they get threadworm eggs on their hands and put their hands in their mouths. These eggs then travel to the intestines and grow into worms.

The main symptoms that your child may experience if they have a threadworm infestation are:

  • anal itching
  • worms in their underwear
  • redness and itching around the vagina in girls

Your child will need medicine to get rid of the threadworms. This is available from your doctor or pharmacist. It’s important that the whole family is treated at the same time as the condition is highly contagious. It’s important not to share towels and that each person in the household changes their underwear every day. You should also encourage your child not to scratch, despite the itching and to wash their hands with warm soapy water for at least 10 seconds after going to the toilet.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified health-care professional.


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