Click here (or on the photo) to download and print this cheat sheet. Don’t forget to stick it on the fridge for easy reference!
1. Common cold
Age group: Any age
Common symptoms: Runny nose, congestion, sneezing, sore throat, coughing
Too sick for daycare/school?: If no fever and feeling well, send to daycare/school.
How long it lasts: 3–7 days
How to treat it: Fluids, rest and time
When to see your doc: Stay out of that waiting room unless symptoms persist or worsen.
Age group: 6–24 months
Common symptoms: Irritability, sore throat, fever, small red spots (on the trunk, face, neck and limbs. Here is what it looks like) that blossom four or five days after onset of above symptoms once fever disappears
Too sick for daycare/school?: The infection is likely most contagious during the fever phase, before the rash breaks out. And you usually can’t send kids to daycare with a fever anyway.
How long it lasts: The rash can take up to a week to fade, but once it appears your kid is no longer contagious.
How to treat it: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever-related discomfort. Time is the only cure—once the rash hits, the worst is over.
When to see your doc: If your child’s temperature reaches 39C (102F) and does not respond to medication.
3. Fifth disease
Age group: 4–8 years
Common symptoms: Lacy red rash (here’s what it looks like) accompanied by low-grade fever. Rash usually first appears on the face in a “slapped cheek” pattern, before spreading to the trunk and limbs.
Too sick for daycare/school?: This virus is passed along in a similar way to the common cold and is only contagious before the rash appears.
How long it lasts: The rash lingers for 10 days, but it’s no longer considered contagious after it emerges.
How to treat it: Symptoms are typically mild and don’t require treatment, though some kids suffer from sore joints, which can be treated with a pain reliever.
When to see your doc: Alert your doctor if your child has a chronic condition or blood abnormalities. See your doctor if you’re exposed in pregnancy.
4. Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
Age group: Any age
Common symptoms: Vomiting (pssst, here’s everything you need to know about dealing with kid puke), diarrhea or loose stools, fever
Too sick for daycare/school?: Kids can return to daycare/school once 24 hours have passed since vomiting. Diarrhea should be OK as long as it’s “contained”—in a diaper or your kid can make it to the toilet.
How long it lasts: From a couple of days to more than a week. Once kids are feeling better, they’re likely not contagious.
How to treat it: If you’re breastfeeding, keep it up. Also offer frequent sips of water or diluted juice.
When to see your doc: Don’t take a puking kid to the doctor unless he’s showing signs of dehydration.
5. Strep throat
Age group: 5–15 years
Common symptoms: Fever, sore throat, tonsils/throat are red, swollen, with white patches, inflamed taste buds, loss of appetite/nausea, rash, muscle aches/joint Too sick for daycare/school?: Your child is contagious as long as symptoms are present. After 24 hours on antibiotics they are no longer considered contagious.
How long it lasts: With antibiotics, most kids are much better within 1 to 2 days.
How to treat it: Antibiotics, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever and sore throat pain, avoid acidic foods and beverages
When to see your doc: If you suspect strep or your kid has been in close contact with a child who has it, see your doctor to avoid potentially serious complications.
6. Flu (influenza)
Age group: Any age
Common symptoms: High temperature (over 39.5C/103.1F), extreme tiredness, sore throat, cough, headache and body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Too sick for daycare/school?: Send kids to school once fever-free for 24 hours.
How long it lasts: Fever 2-4 days; may take up to two weeks to recover. You’re considered contagious up to seven days after getting sick.
How to treat it: Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever, rest, fluids for vomiting and/or diarrhea
When to see your doc: See a doctor immediately if your child experiences: fast/laboured breathing, bluish lips and/or skin, extreme drowsiness, severe crankiness, dehydration
7. Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Age group: Usually 1–5 years
Common symptoms: Viral (most common, usually follows a cold): One/both eyes are watery, itchy, light-sensitive, Bacterial: One/both eyes are red, swollen and have thick, sticky yellow or greenish-yellow
Too sick for daycare/school?: Viral/bacterial pink eye are highly contagious, so keep your kid home for the first 24 to 48 hours. As long as there is discharge, your kid is contagious. Allergic pink eye is not contagious.
How long it lasts: Viral and bacterial pink eye may last for a few days up to two weeks.
How to treat it: Treat viral pink eye at home. Use a damp, warm washcloth to ease irritation. Bacterial pink eye requires drops—see your doctor for a prescription. Treat allergic pink eye with allergy eye drops or see your doctor.
When to see your doc: See your doctor if: You’re unsure of what type of pink eye your kid has, and to get antibiotics. The eyelid becomes swollen or your child complains of pain or vision problems.
8. Hand, foot and mouth
Age group: Any age (best known as “daycare disease”)
Common symptoms: Low-grade fever, headache, sore throat, sores in the mouth, palate and/or tonsils, lack of appetite, spotty rash, blisters on hands, feet and/or bum
Too sick for daycare/school?: Keep kids home for the first three days. It’s most contagious during the fever–headache–sore throat phase. Send well kids back to daycare even if rash hasn’t yet healed.
How long it lasts: Up to a week
How to treat it: Watch for dehydration, since kids with mouth sores tend to avoid food and drink. Acetaminophen for pain and fever.
When to see your doc: See your doctor to rule out infections like impetigo or chicken pox.
Age group: Usually 0-5 years
Common symptoms: Barking, seal-like cough, most common at night
Too sick for daycare/school?: You may have to keep your child home for 2 to 5 days.
How long it lasts: 2–5 days
How to treat it: Warm, moist air to relax airway—sit together in a steamy bathroom for 10 min or run a humidifier. A blast of cold air can sometimes help, too. Steroid meds may help in moderate to severe cases.
When to see your doc: Seek medical help if your child becomes worse or has difficulty breathing. Head to the ER or call 911 at any sign of bluish tongue or lips, or respiratory distress.
Don’t forget to download this handy printable of the most common kid illnesses, plus how to treat them.
A version of this article appeared in our October 2016 issue with the headline, “9 most common kid illnesses,” p. 74.