Whenever Nova’s sick, even if it’s just with a cold, I go into full-on mama-bear mode. I’m protective, paranoid, and just so sad for her. I always wish it could be me who had to go through it instead!
So Tuesday morning, when we received an email from Nova’s daycare saying there might be a case of hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD), I panicked. We rushed there, took Nova home and changed all her clothes.
Last November, Nova got HFMD for the first time. It was a pretty terrifying experience for me and for her. I didn’t know anything about HFMD then.
Turns out, it’s a really common virus among kids under 10, and usually isn’t a major cause for concern. Unfortunately, Nova had a pretty severe case that first time. She had blisters in her throat, on her tongue, all around her mouth, and on her hands and feet. She could barely eat anything for days. She cried every time she drank, walked, or tried to hold her toys. Neither my husband nor I could even imagine her pain level - until a few days later when my husband also got HFMD from her.
Both Nova and my husband got through their illness after a week or so, but it was brutal. When Nova contracted HFMD once again this past week from that child at her daycare, I felt much more prepared. I thought I’d share some things I wish I’d known sooner about preventing HFMD and making my poor Nova’s life a little easier while she suffered through it. It’s good for any parent of little ones to know about, especially during the summer and fall when HFMD is the most common!
What is Hand-foot-and-mouth disease?
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus. It’s mostly mild, though unpleasant and very contagious. It’s very common among small children and can be caught from contact with another child who has it or anything that child’s been in contact with, like a toy or a doorknob. It’s especially common in childcare settings, though adults can also get it as we learned the hard way. It’s usually characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.
Early symptoms often include a fever, a sore throat, and painful blisters like cold sores on the child’s mouth or tongue. A day or two after the first symptoms appear, the child may also get small red sores and water blisters on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet. Sores may also pop up on the knees, elbows, or buttocks.
These symptoms aren’t always present in every case - your child may only experience a few of them. The first time Nova got HFMD, she was unlucky enough to get all of them! First, she had a fever, then we noticed blisters in her mouth that spread to her hands and feet over the next few days. She was too tired and in too much pain to do much at all for a week. Thankfully, the most recent time was much milder. She was pretty active and didn’t have as many symptoms. Every case is different!
HFMD is less common in adults, but when present the symptoms are usually more severe. When my husband got it from our contagious little girl, he described the sensation as “similar to having pins and needles on your hands, while also being sunburned.” Yikes!
When to See a Doctor
If mouth sores keep your child from drinking fluids, contact your doctor. The most common complication of hand-foot-and-mouth disease is dehydration - if it’s severe, IV fluids might be necessary. You should also contact your doctor if, after a few days, your child’s signs and symptoms worsen, or the rash spreads to the outer lip and up legs and arms. Some severe forms of HFMD can require medical attention and can lead to other serious (but very rare) complications.
However, if symptoms are not severe and your child has had contact with a child infected with HFMD in the past 7 days, self-care at home is usually sufficient.
Here’s my least favorite part: since HFMD is a virus, there’s no treatment! My heart broke a little when the doctor told me that Nova would just have to tough it out and wait 7-10 days for the disease to pass. Some things definitely made Nova’s recovery a little easier, though. Children’s Tylenol really curbed Nova’s fever and helped with the pain. Anti-itch lotion helped soothe the rashes on her hands and feet. And Nova loved all the extra popsicles and smoothies I gave her to help soothe her sore throat!
Just like how there’s no cure, there’s currently no vaccine in the United States to protect against the virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease. For some kids, HFMD is just an unpleasant, unavoidable part of childhood. To help prevent HFMD, teach your child good hygiene habits. Teach them how to wash their hands carefully and often, and not to put their fingers, hands, or other objects in their mouths. When possible, avoid contact with people who are infected with hand-foot-and-mouth disease. That’s easier said than done - it’s usually unclear whether a child has HFMD until the symptoms show up, but they’re contagious long before that. Nova was exposed to the virus by her friend at daycare before her friend’s case was even diagnosed - by the time we found out, it was too late.
If it’s too late to prevent it for your child, make sure he or she avoids contact with others while active symptoms are still present. Keep your child out of child care or school until mouth sores have healed and fever is gone. And remember - your child is contagious at home too! Practicing good hygiene and limiting contact whenever possible might make it so your family doesn’t get HFMD like my husband did.
I’m happy to report that after a few tough days, Nova’s feeling much better and she’s back to her usual self! Have any of your children ever gotten HFMD? How did you make the recovery process more smooth? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!