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August 2018

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: What You Need to Know

Oh, dear! Your child is grumpy, has another fever, and isn’t eating well—again. Before you assume it’s just another cold or flu, watch for other symptoms. Your young one may have hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Mother with young child talking with doctor


Hand, foot, and mouth disease is common in children younger than age 5. At the beginning, your child will most likely have a fever, reduced appetite, and sore throat. One or two days later, he or she may develop painful mouth sores that start as small red spots in the back of the mouth or a rash of blistering red spots on his or her hands, soles, knees, elbows, genitals, or buttocks. No wonder your youngster is cranky!

How it spreads

Viruses cause hand, foot, and mouth disease. They spread through contact with nose, throat, or blister fluids, or bowel movements—for example, if you change a diaper and touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. The viruses can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing air after a sick child coughs or sneezes. Your child will be the most contagious during the first week of illness.

How to help your sick child

Keep your child at home until he or she is well. There is no specific treatment, but you can help your little one feel more comfortable with:

  • Medicines to ease pain and fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • Numbing mouthwashes or sprays

  • Lots of liquids to prevent dehydration

Older children and adults can sometimes catch it, too. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine available yet. Reduce the risk for infection in your family by:

  • Making sure everyone washes hands often

  • Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands

  • Not kissing, hugging, and sharing cups and utensils with people who are sick

  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in your home, like toys and doorknobs 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is usually mild and resolves within seven to 10 days. Keep in mind that it is one of many infections that cause mouth sores and rashes. Your doctor will diagnose your child by considering his or her symptoms and looking at the mouth sores and rash.

As a parent, it’s hard to see any of your children suffer. Help your children avoid getting sick in the first place by encouraging lots of hand washing and reminding them about how they can reduce their risk.



Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/17/2018
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