Summer Health advice at your fingertips
Having a poorly child can be a scary experience, but often the best person to help your child quickly is you. Understanding more about common childhood illnesses and injuries can help you feel more confident in knowing what to do.
Parents often get worried about temperatures, coughs and minor injuries, such as sprains and cuts. But with some advice from your pharmacist and the use of some stock medicines and first aid kit, you can often manage to make your child feel better at home.
NHS Choices is an excellent website for health advice and information about where to go to get the right treatment. If you need medical help fast, but it’s not life-threatening or an emergency, call NHS 111 at any time for advice. In some cases, they may be able to book a GP appointment for you.
Below provides a range of advice for common child ailments:
High temperature is a normal response to fight a virus or infection or to cool the body down and does not harm your child. Children with a persistent high temperature (40c or above) who have other symptoms – see below – could have a more serious infection but most will not.
You can usually lower your child’s temperature using paracetamol and / or ibuprofen and removing some of their clothing. Sponging with cool water can make children shiver, which can actually raise their temperature. However, sponging with lukewarm water may help.
Cuts and gashes
Children are always playing and exploring which means they can easily get cuts and scrapes. If there’s a lot of bleeding, press firmly on the wound with a clean cloth, such as a tea towel or flannel. If you don’t have one, use your fingers. Press until the bleeding stops – this might take several minutes.
If possible, raise the injured limb to help stop the bleeding (don’t do this if the limb might be broken, in which case seek medical help). Cover the wound with a clean dressing. If blood soaks through, leave the dressing there and put another over the top.
It’s very unusual for a wound to cause serious blood loss. But if the cut keeps bleeding, or there’s a gap between the edges of the wound, take your child to accident and emergency or a minor injury unit. If there is a possibility of a foreign body (e.g. a piece of glass) in the cut, go straight to A&E.
Sprains and strains
These are very common injuries, especially during physical games and sports.
A sprain is when ligaments have been stretched, twisted or torn and often happens in the knees, ankles, wrists and thumbs. Symptoms can include tenderness/pain, being unable to use the joint normally or put weight on it, swelling and bruising.
Strains are when muscles stretch or tear and are common in the legs and back. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, bruising, spasms and temporary loss of function in the affected muscle.
Generally, a sprained joint should be moved as soon as it is not too painful, whereas a strained muscle should ideally be kept still for a few days.
Most sprains and strains can be cared for at home using PRICE therapy (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation). Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can help and the affected body part will usually be back to normal within a few weeks.
You should take your child for medical advice if the pain is very severe, they cannot put any weight on the injured area, it gives way when they try to use it, the injury looks crooked/has unusual lumps or bumps (other than swelling) or there is numbness or coldness in any part of the area.
Sickness and diarrhoea
Sickness and diarrhoea are common in school age children.
Diarrhoea usually lasts for five to seven days, and for most children it will stop within two weeks. Vomiting often lasts for one to two days, and in most children it will stop within three days. Ask your pharmacist or GP for advice if your child is taking longer to get better.
To stop dehydration, give your child plenty of clear drinks (such as water or clear broth). Avoid fruit juice or squash, which can make things worse. Only give your child food if they want it.
Don't give anti-diarrhoeal drugs, as they can be dangerous. Oral rehydration treatment from your pharmacist can help.
Help to prevent germs spreading by using separate towels for your child and reminding everyone in the family to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating.
Don't return your child to their school or childcare until at least 48 hours after the last episode of diarrhoea or vomiting.
Insect bites and stings
Bites and stings are normally harmless and usually only cause minor irritation by becoming red, swollen and itchy for a few days.
You can easily treat them by washing the area with soap and water and placing a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) over to reduce swelling.
Tell your child to avoid scratching to reduce the chance of infection. If they are in pain, or the area is swollen, use paracetamol or ibuprofen.
See a GP if there's a lot of swelling and blistering of the area or if there's pus, which indicates an infection.
In rare cases, some people can have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a bite or sting. Dial 999 for an ambulance if your child experiences:
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- dizziness or feeling faint
- confusion, anxiety or agitation.
Coughs and colds
Colds are very common - normal, healthy children can have eight or more colds a year. Young children often develop a chesty cough because they have smaller airways. This can be worrying but is often not a chest infection - a child with an infection will generally be more unwell.
Colds normally last 7-14 days and are not helped by antibiotics - green discharge from the nose (snot/phlegm) does not indicate an infection. While coughing can be irritating and take a while to go, cough syrups probably do not help and antibiotics aren’t needed. Keep your child’s throat lubricated and their body hydrated with regular drinks of water and encourage them to rest.
Burns and scalds
Immediately place the area under cold running water to take the heat out of the skin. Don't do this for longer than 10 minutes, as babies and toddlers can get too cold. If there’s no running water, immerse the burn or scald in cold water or any other cool fluid, such as milk or a cold drink.
Use something clean and non-fluffy, like a cotton pillowcase or Clingfilm, to cover the burn or scald and reduce the danger of infection.
If your child’s clothes are stuck to the skin, don’t try to take them off. If the burn is not calmed by the above actions, don’t put any ointments or creams on, as it will have to be cleaned off before the area can be treated. Depending on how severe it is, see your GP or go to a minor injuries unit or accident and emergency department.
Blisters will burst naturally - the raw area underneath needs a protective dressing. Ask your pharmacist or practice nurse for advice.
In all cases, if you are still worried about your child after caring for them at home, get further advice from your GP surgery or by calling NHS 111. In an emergency situation, dial 999 for an ambulance.
Signs of possible serious illness:
- Your child is very drowsy or irritable and doesn’t improve after taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Your child has problems breathing – e.g. rapid breaths, short of breath or ’working hard’ to breathe (which sometimes looks as though the skin below the ribs gets sucked in when they inhale).
- Cold or discoloured hands or feet with a warm body.
- Unusual skin colour (pale or blue around lips)
- Persistent high temperature (40c or above) which does not come down with treatment.
- An infant who is not feeding or any child showing signs of dehydration.