My toddler woke from nap with a fever one day this last fall. By the next morning, she had sores in her mouth and red spots over a good portion of her body. A quick visit to her pediatrician confirmed that she had hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD).
Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one in our family who developed the disease. Within less than a week, my younger daughter (who was just 3 months old at the time) and I also came down with it!
HFMD is relatively innocuous and doctors will tell you that there is little that can be done to treat it (here is an overview of the disease from the CDC). This is true to a large extent—HFMD is caused by a virus, so it’s not like you can take an antibiotic to cure it. However, you can enlist a number of home remedies to help manage the symptoms of the disease. This is good news because it can be quite uncomfortable!
Here are 6 approaches that helped us cope with the symptoms of HFMD.
Home remedies for hand, foot, and mouth disease
The first couple of days that my toddler had the disease, she spent a lot of time sitting around moaning and crying. It was heartbreaking to see her so uncomfortable! I understood why she acted this way as soon as I came down with the disease. Each blister I developed felt like a paper cut that was being tickled. Pretty awful, huh?
Knowing what I do about the anti-inflammatory benefits of colloidal oatmeal, I decided to put my miserable toddler in a warm (but not hot) oatmeal bath. This helped her so much! Once she’d been soaking for a couple of minutes, she calmed down and actually began playing. I continued putting her in oatmeal baths each day until her blisters crusted over. I also used oatmeal baths on my infant and took one myself.
I made simple oatmeal bath infusers for our oatmeal baths. I added a couple drops of lavender and tree tea oil to these. They were perfect!
If you don’t have the supplies to make your own, you can simply grab some oatmeal bath packets (like those made by Aveeno) at the store.
Coconut oil has some antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and even analgesic properties (source), so it is a soothing substance to rub on the skin when the blisters of HFMD are present. I slathered it on the girls after their oatmeal baths and whenever they were trying to scratch. It seemed to bring immediate comfort. This may be due to the beneficial properties of the coconut oil or may be more psychological (i.e., placebo effect). It brought comfort either way, and that is what matters!
The mouth sores of HFMD are just as uncomfortable as the blisters that form on the hands and feet. Thus, it’s a good idea to avoid spicy foods, citrus fruits, and anything else that might irritate the sores. We found soft, bland foods (either warm or cold) to be soothing.
Which foods are best will vary from one person to the next. My toddler preferred cold foods (yogurt, chilled applesauce, etc.), but I preferred warm foods (tea, chicken noodle soup, etc.). My infant wasn’t eating solids yet, but I did prepare some breast milk freezer pops in case she became fussy while nursing or refused to nurse.
In order to reduce irritation to the blisters that form on the skin, it is helpful to wear loose-fitting, breathable clothes. Cotton clothing seemed to feel most comfortable. Though it wasn’t particularly cold, I did dress my kiddos in shirts with long sleeves and in pants. There were two reasons for this. First, my toddler got very distressed at the sight of the blisters. She was too young to understand why there were red “owies” all over her skin. Second, covering the blisters kept them clean and free of irritation from things in the environment.
Finding something to focus on instead of the painful blisters or sore throat/mouth was very helpful. This was easy for me to do, but took a little work for my toddler. One thing that worked well was to pull out a couple of new books and toys that we had hidden in a closet (we’d set these aside for Christmas). The novelty of the items kept her attention. Also, we did let her watch more TV than we usually allow. This wasn’t my first choice of activity for her, but she really needed the distraction and it worked well.
OTC pain relievers and mouthwashes
Our pediatrician recommended we administer over-the-counter fever reducers/pain medications (e.g., Children’s Tylenol or Motrin). These were needed for my older daughter to treat a climbing fever. Our pediatrician’s other recommendation was that we combine Benadryl and Mylanta in equal amounts and then give my toddler a sip of it before meals to help soothe the sores in her mouth and throat, allowing her to eat. She never refused food or drink, so we didn’t try this (though I see how it could be helpful in a child who isn’t eating and drinking).
Many parents want to avoid giving their kids medications if at all possible. If this is you, then you might consider trying a variety of herbal teas and broths (read more here). I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of these, but they’re worth a try. As always, check with your healthcare professional if you have questions about their safety.
The symptoms of HFMD will go away in several days regardless of if you try to alleviate them or not. However, those days will be much more bearable if you find some relief. I hope these strategies will be of help to you and your little ones!
Have you or your children experienced HFMD? What home remedies did you find most useful for coping with the symptoms?
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