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What Parents Need to Know About Identifying and Treating Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Our kids can be germ-magnets, making the first months of school or daycare the hardest. Whether it’s a cold picked up from the playground, or a case of pink eye tearing through the kindergarten class, developing immune systems need time to adapt to the new school year.

But if you’re noticing a concentrated, painful rash in your infant or child under the age of five, it could be an infection known as Hand, Foot and Mouth disease.

“Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is a common viral illness that causes painful mouth sores with a skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet,” said Alexis Sweeney, MD, a physician specializing in Family Medicine at Abington–Jefferson Health.

Here are Dr. Sweeney’s tips for spotting the condition, and what you need to know about treating it:

Symptoms

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease starts with a fever, reduced appetite and a sore throat.

“One or two days after the fever presents itself, a patient may develop small red spots in the back of their mouth,” said Dr. Sweeney. “These can blister and become painful over time, a condition called herpangina.”

Over the next few days, the rash may also appear on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. They first look like flat, red spots but can eventually rise, forming painful blisters. Occasionally, this rash may also present on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area.

Treatment

There is no singular treatment or vaccine for the virus that causes Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. Instead, Dr. Sweeney recommends supportive care to reduce symptoms and make children more comfortable as their immune system fights it off.

“Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve pain, while topical ointments and mouthwashes can be used on the skin and in the mouth,” she said.

In more serious cases, pain from the blisters can make it difficult to swallow. If your child begins to experience severe symptoms, they should be brought to a hospital's Emergency department.

“A hospital will provide an IV for hydration, then make sure your child is getting enough nutrients,” said Dr. Sweeney.

Transmission

The key to managing Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is prevention.

“Washing hands should always be the first priority, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers,” said Dr. Sweeney.

Cleaning frequently touched areas like tables and toys with antibacterial products will kill the virus and slow the spread of other germs. Your family should also avoid contact such as hugging, kissing or sharing utensils with anyone showing signs of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease.

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