Common Childhood Illnesses for the Under 5s

Childhood illnesses are par for the course. All kids get sick at some point, especially once they start nursery or pre-school and come into contact with lots of germs. The good news is most illnesses are mild and will clear up without much assistance. Here are the main ones to be aware of.

Colds and Flu

Colds and flu are very common in young children, and if you are fostering with Foster Care Associates Scotland, you can expect any little ones you care for to pick up a cold or three. Most colds and flu will clear up on their own within a week or two. See your GP if symptoms persist or get worse.

Ear Infections

Ear infections like earache, otitis media and glue ear are common in children under 5. Symptoms include ear pain, fever, irritability, difficulty hearing and fluid draining from the ear. Ear infections often follow a cold and can sometimes lead to a burst eardrum and discharge from the ear. Treatment usually involves pain relief like paracetamol and applying local heat. Antibiotics may be prescribed for a bacterial infection. See your GP if symptoms don’t improve in a few days. 


Conjunctivitis or ‘sticky eye’ is an inflammation of the conjunctiva- the membrane covering the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids. Symptoms include red, itchy, watery eyes and sometimes a sticky discharge. It’s usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection and is very contagious. Treatment typically includes antiseptic eye drops or ointments. Encourage hand washing and avoid sharing towels or pillows to prevent spreading. Most cases clear up within a week or two.

Stomach Upsets

Stomach bugs with vomiting and diarrhoea are common in children. Gastroenteritis is usually caused by a virus, like rotavirus or norovirus. Keep your child well-hydrated with small sips of water. Give them plain foods like pasta or rice once the vomiting has stopped. See your GP if symptoms haven’t improved after a few days or if your child becomes dehydrated.


Chickenpox causes a blistery, itchy rash that can last up to 14 days. Other symptoms include fever, headaches and loss of appetite. It’s highly contagious so keep children off nursery or school until all spots have scabbed over. Cool baths, calamine lotion and paracetamol can help relieve itching and fever. Speak to your GP if the itching is very troublesome or if your child develops any signs of secondary infection like oozing blisters.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

This common viral illness causes a rash with blisters on the hands, feet and mouth. Other symptoms can include sore throat, high temperature, loss of appetite. Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. Painkillers like paracetamol can help relieve discomfort. Cases are usually mild and clear up by themselves in 7 to 10 days. Keep children off school until they are feeling better.


Threadworms are tiny worms that live in the bowel and cause an itchy bottom. Symptoms include itchiness around the anus and disturbed sleep. You may also spot threadworms in stools. Treat the whole family with medication from the pharmacy. Hygiene measures like handwashing are also important to avoid reinfection.

By being aware of common childhood illnesses and their symptoms, you can seek appropriate treatment and care for your child. Contact your GP or NHS 111 if you have any concerns.


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