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Childhood illnesses

There are many childhood illnesses that children can experience, here are some common illnesses and a few less common ones. 

Common childhood illnesses

Fever and high temperature

A normal temperature in babies and children is about 36.4C, this can vary slightly from child to child. Fever is the body's natural response to fighting infections such as: coughs and colds. 

A fever is a high temperature of 38C or more, which usually returns to normal within three or four days.

A child with a temperature might feel: hotter than usual to the touch on their forehead, back or tummy, be sweaty or clammy and/ or have red cheeks.

To check your child’s temperature, use a digital thermometer (which you can buy from pharmacies and supermarkets).


It is normal for a child to have eight or more colds per year. This is because there are hundreds of different cold viruses and young children have no immunity to any of them as they've never had them before. They will build up immunity gradually and get fewer colds. Most colds get better in five to seven days.

Ear infections

Ear infections are common in babies and small children. They often follow a cold and sometimes cause a temperature. A child may pull or rub at an ear, babies can’t always tell where pain is coming from and may just cry and seem uncomfortable. 

Most ear infections are caused by viruses, which can’t be treated with antibiotics. They will just get better by themselves. After an ear infection your child may have a problem hearing for two to six weeks. If the problem lasts for any longer than this, ask your doctor for advice.


Usually a cough is not serious and goes away by itself. If your child is feeding, drinking, eating and breathing normally and there’s no wheezing, a cough isn’t usually anything to worry about. 

If your child has a bad cough that won’t go away, see your doctor. Here are some causes of a more serious cough in children:

Food Allergies

When you start introducing solids (weaning), introduce the foods that commonly cause allergies one at a time so that you can spot any reaction. These foods are: milk, eggs, wheat, nuts, seeds, fish and shellfish. 

Don't introduce any of these foods before six months. There is evidence that infants should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg and dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. This includes infants at high risk of allergy.

Many children grow out of their allergies to milk or eggs, but a peanut allergy is generally lifelong.

Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) is the most common form of eczema, a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. Atopic eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked, sore and red. Some people only have small patches of dry skin, but others may experience widespread red, inflamed skin all over the body. 

Although atopic eczema can affect any part of the body, it most often affects the hands, insides of the elbows, backs of the knees and the face and scalp in children.


Chickenpox is a common and usually mild childhood illness that can also occur at any stage of life. Chickenpox causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into fluid-filled blisters. They then crust over to form scabs, which eventually drop off.

The incubation period for chickenpox is between 10 and 21 days. Your child is infectious from up to two days before the red spots appear and until around five days after all scabs or crusts are dry.


Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus that is spread from person to person through droplets in the air. Early symptoms include, fever, cough, feeling tired, a sore throat, runny nose, discomfort looking at light and sore, watery eyes. After the three or four days a rash appears, the spots are red and slightly raised. Someone with measles is infectious for 24 hours before the rash appears, and four days afterwards. The illness usually lasts about 10 days. Call your doctor if you have any measles symptoms.

Measles is a vaccine preventable disease and vaccination against the disease is recommended as part of routine childhood vaccinations.

Less common illnesses


Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults. 

Kawasaki disease

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that mainly affects children aged under-five. It's also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome. The characteristic symptoms are a high temperature that lasts for more than five days, with: a rash. swollen glands in the neck, dry, cracked lips, red fingers or toes, and red eyes. After a few weeks the symptoms become less severe, may well last longer. At this stage, the affected child may have peeling skin on their fingers and toes.

Need to talk

Need to talk?

If you would like to talk to one of our local Family Support workers to see how we can help, pop into one of our family centres, email or phone 020 8753 6070.

We're here to help with tailored support for you and your family - just ask!

Houra from Masbro

Worried about a child?

If you are worried about a child or young person, please call our team on 020 8753 6600.

If you are worried that a child or young person is at immediate risk, please contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 500 or or call the police on 999

Remember Childline is always there for any young person online and on the phone anytime. If you are worried about yourself or a friend they are there for you.