Most of the time, childhood illnesses can be dealt with in the comfort of your own home.
From coughs to colds, help your child to be comfortable by:
- Keeping the room airy without being draughty. If the room is too warm, they’ll probably feel worse.
- Give your child plenty to drink. For the first day or so don’t bother about food unless they want it. After that, start trying to tempt them with bits of food and encouraging them to have nutritious drinks like milk.
- Try to give your child time for quiet games, stories, company and comfort.
- Sick children get very tired and need plenty of rest. Encourage your child to doze off when they need to, perhaps with a story read by you.
Looking after a sick child, even for a couple of days, can be exhausting. So please make sure to get rest and sleep when you can, and try to get somebody else to take over every now and then to give you a break.
Coughs and colds
Colds and most coughs are caused by a virus. Most colds last for 5-7 days, but the cough can hang around for longer.
Irritating coughs sometimes take several weeks to fully resolve, but if the child is otherwise well and isn’t having problems with their breathing, they are not normally something to worry about.
Coughs that can come along with a cold, can cause sleepless nights for all. Try these tips to help your child get a better night’s sleep.
- If your child is under 1 year old – try propping up the legs of the cot at the head end on a couple of big books. This can help any irritating secretions drain away.
- If your child is older than 1 – you can try an extra pillow to prop them up.
- Keep a drink close by
- Use Vaseline on sore noses and lips.
- If your child has a pre-existing condition, like asthma, keep giving any prescribed medication.
Useful advice at your fingertips with the HANDi app
The HANDi Paediatric app gives up-to-date advice about common childhood illnesses and how to treat them. The app contains local information about when and how to ask for help, along with what to expect when your child is being assessed:
- Download from Apple: HANDi Paediatric on the App Store (apple.com)
- Download from Android: HANDi Paediatric – Apps on Google Play
Is my child too ill for nursery or school?
It is tricky deciding if your child should stay off school, nursery or playgroup when they’re unwell.
Find out the government guidelines for schools and nurseries here: Is my child too ill for school? – NHS (www.nhs.uk). These advise when children should be kept off school and when they shouldn’t.
Seeking medical help for child illness
Your health visitor, practice nurse, nurse practitioner, GP and pharmacist can all give you advice on how to treat your child’s illness.
The GP can treat your child and prescribe medicines. Some health visitors, nurses and pharmacists can also diagnose illness and prescribe medicines for your child.
If your child is ill, you can try your local pharmacy first. They’ll tell you if your child needs to see a GP. If your child has signs of serious illness, contact your GP surgery directly or take them straight to the A&E department of your local hospital.
Most GP surgeries are very supportive towards parents of small children. Some will fit babies into surgeries without an appointment or see them at the beginning of surgery hours. Many GPs will also give advice over the phone.
If you find it difficult to contact your doctor or get to the surgery, you can call NHS 111 for medical advice, 24 hours a day.
Dealing with children’s minor accidents
Many GP surgeries, minor injury units, walk-in centres and pharmacies are equipped to deal with minor casualties, such as cuts or items trapped in the nose or ear.
In this situation, ask a GP or NHS 111 for advice on where to go before you go to the emergency department.
Spotting serious illness in children
Remember: It is important you trust your instincts and get the help your child needs. Not getting the advice and treatment at the right time could put your child at risk of serious illness.
If your child already has a health condition (like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy) look out for warning signs that their condition is less well controlled. Follow the advice given to you by the medical team that looks after your child
For more information on children’s illnesses, where to get help, and what you can do to help them at home visit the NHS website for more advice.
If you are worried that their symptoms are getting worse call 111 for advice.
Page last reviewed: 7 February 2024