Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is one of those pesky childhood illnesses that go around all the time. If your child is ever in contact with other children, he or she can easily pick it up. We had a bout with it a couple of months ago, and while it wasn't fun, we muddled through it. Here's what we learned:
What is HFMD?
HFMD is a virus that causes fever and a rash around the mouth, hands, and feet, among other places. The child will also have sores within his mouth, which will make eating quite a challenge. It typically affects kids under the age of 5, and while adults rarely get it, it can happen!
The virus transfers in all the usual ways, such as mucus, saliva, and the dreaded feces. I've heard that it can hang out in the feces for months after the illness, so if you've ever needed a good reason to wash your hands after a diaper change, there it is. I'm a big fan of keeping sanitizer at the changing table, so that I can clean my hands, get my child off the changing table, and then do a proper hand washing. I also use burp cloths or cloth diapers on the changing table, and I swap it out for a clean cloth after every dirty diaper.
Here's the fun part: HMFD often lasts anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Yep, you read that right. When my son was diagnosed with it, we cleared our calendar for over a week, knowing that his big sister would probably come down with it too. Some friends have said that it's one of the most miserable things they've experienced with their children. It definitely ranks right up there with a bad ear infection, because your kids will probably be super cranky and lethargic.
What does HFMD look like?
HMFD starts with a really nice fever, which was our biggest concern with our daughter, since she is prone to having febrile seizures. Out of caution, we did take her to the ER one night when her temperature was over 104 with medication. But it came down pretty quickly once we started rotating ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Within about a day of having fever, she broke out in a rash everywhere. Hers was not localized to her hands and feet, but was all over her body as well as inside her mouth.
Our son had a fever too and then broke out with small bumps around his mouth, hands, and feet. Eventually, he had tiny spots everywhere.
How is HFMD treated?
Since it is a virus, there's not too much you can do about it, other than keep your child comfortable. No medication will shorten the duration of it, but your doctor can prescribe something to help with the discomfort. We found this very helpful.
Your child will have sores all in their mouth, making eating incredibly difficult. Before each meal, we squirted the medication, a mixture of Benadryl, Maalox, and lidocaine, into the child's mouth. This numbed it, which was also uncomfortable, but at least our kids were able to eat a little bit. Our one year old adapted easily and ate pretty well, despite the mouth sores. Our three year old, on the otherhand, was miserable for quite a while. After about 5 days of HFMD, I remember seeing her crying at the kitchen table. She pointed to her mouth and said "Mommy, I can't get my sick out!" She was pretty pathetic, but she survived.
The doctor can also prescribe a sucker that you can rub into your child's mouth to help with the mouth pain. We really weren't big fans of this one. As soon as the pharmacist explained the process, that I could only give the sucker for about 10 seconds, I decided we probably wouldn't use it. Neither of my kids would be happy about getting a sucker for only 10 seconds. That's just kind of mean. Isabelle didn't even like the taste of it, so that was a bust.
Should I go to the doctor?
That's totally up to you. I had a friend diagnose it. Her son had it last summer, so she dropped by my house to check out little Andrew. As soon as she saw the telltale spots on the bottom of his feet, she said yep, it's HFMD. I took him into the doctor "just in case," (he also had an ear infection and atalectasis at the same time, so I wanted to play it safe). We were able to get a prescription for the Benadryl solution, and that alone made it worth the trip to the doctor.
My biggest prayer was that my daughter would get it really soon after my son, so that we could be done with it in a hurry. She did get it quickly, and both kids were over the disease in about 10 days. During that time, we pretty much just camped out in the living room, relaxing and watching videos, since Izzy was especially lethargic. I babied my babies and got lots of snuggles. For us, it was pretty miserable, but it's just one of those childhood illnesses that we had to go through, and might have to go through again! But now we'll know how to deal with it.