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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Care Guide

Learn what hand, foot, and mouth disease is and what you can do to alleviate symptoms.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD or HFM) is uncomfortable and we’re sorry to hear you or your kiddo are experiencing this. Read on for tips from Kinsa’s clinical team to help you or your child stay comfortable while you recover. 

What exactly is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

The name implies something really gross, doesn’t it? It’s simply a viral infection that’s common among children. It usually begins with a fever that starts 3-6 days after exposure, then blisters develop on the hands, feet and mouth (its namesake) 1-2 days after the fever began. For some kiddos, the blisters are only in the mouth and the back of the throat, making it more difficult to find the culprit of your child’s discomfort / fussiness / lack of appetite. Some kids may also develop a pink rash on their thighs or little bottom.

Other symptoms are similar to a bad cold or the flu: headache, body aches, runny nose and sore throat. These symptoms usually accompany the fever before the blisters or rash appear.

This viral infection is spread in the common ways: mucus, saliva, fluid from the blisters, unwashed hands after a bathroom trip (😷) or simply unwashed hands that have been in your kiddo’s mouth or touched an oozing blister (also: 😷).

What can I do to alleviate symptoms?

There isn’t any treatment to cure HFM, per se, since it is a viral infection. Most of us will recover in 7-10 days, just slightly worse for wear. But there are always a few things we can do to seek some comfort!

If your child has blisters in their mouth or throat, eating and drinking can be extremely painful. Anything cold will provide a double benefit: calories/hydration + soothing the pain. Popsicles, ice cream or smoothies are great options here.

Gargling with warm salt water may also help soothe a sore throat, best saved for our kiddos capable of gargling and spitting (usually over 6 years old). Add ¼-½ teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water; swish, gargle, spit!

Tylenol (if >6 months old) or ibuprofen (if >3 months old) may be given for any discomfort or a moderate fever (>100℉ underarm, >101℉ under the tongue, >102℉ rectally or in the ear). Fevers are a sign our body is fighting off the infection, so any fever that is tolerable should not be treated with medication, as it dampens our body’s own efforts to heal.

With one exception that I’ll mention below, the blisters should remain clean and uncovered. Pat dry after washing to prevent opening them up or causing pain. If any of the blisters pop, apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin or Bacitracin) and, at this point, you cover it. Remember, the fluid is contagious so if you’re touching any of the blisters to assess them or render first aid, ensure you wash your hands immediately after.

How do I know if it’s getting worse?

Give your doctor a call for any of the following:

  • You suspect HFM and your little one is 6 months old or younger
  • The pain is intolerable, even 1-2 hours after giving medication
  • The fever lasts longer than 3 days
  • Other symptoms / blisters don’t seem to be improving after 10 days
  • Your child is becoming dehydrated (no peeing in 4-6 hours for babies under 2 years old; no peeing in 6-8 hours for our kids over 2 years old; very dark urine, dry mouth, no tears)

How can the rest of the family avoid getting it?

Avoid sharing this with classmates by keeping your kiddo home until they are fever-free for >24 hours without medication and the blisters are healing. Follow this link here to read about how the rest of the family can avoid HFM!