Children | Infants & Toddlers
April 6, 2016

Understanding hand, foot and mouth disease

by Understanding Hand, Foot and Mouth

The viral illness hand, food and mouth typically blossoms in the spring, causing fever, fussiness and ulcers through the fall.


I can speak from personal experience that hand, foot and mouth was hands-down (pun intended) the worst viral illness we had in my years as a parent. I remember that my son was particularly miserable when he had the illness, which is typically seen from late spring through early fall among preschool-aged children.

Every child is different, though. Some just get fever and muddle along just fine while others cannot drink anything and risk dehydration.


Hand, foot and mouth disease usually starts with one to two days of fever. It is then followed by fussiness, sore throat, decreased appetite, diarrhea, drooling and ulcers on the mouth, hands and feet.

Mouth ulcers are typically found around the mouth itself, in the back of the throat and on the roof of the mouth. A portion of children only get the mouth sores and the rest will get the classic blisters on the palms and soles of the feet. At times, we see a new strain that causes a rash on the entire body.


Because it is a virus, antibiotics don’t work. Typical treatment is a tincture of time and managing symptoms. Mild pain can we managed with ibuprofen and acetaminophen, while more severe pain can be treated with Magic Mouthwash or prescription-strength painkillers. Most older children and parents are immune to the illness, although I have seen adults (and even coworkers) come down with it.


Symptoms last about four to five days. You can prevent the spread with good handwashing, particularly after changing diapers. This is one of the few illnesses where I get to be a fun doctor and prescribe Popsicles and Jell-O, because cold, soft foods help a lot with the discomfort. Someone with the illness can continue to be contagious for several weeks afterwards, but the peak time of being contagious is during the first few days. It can be dangerous to pregnant women, so contact your obstetrician if you are exposed while pregnant.

Although hand, foot and mouth is not particularly dangerous to most small children, it can be quite worrisome to caregivers because of the fussiness and dehydration risk. Be sure to contact your child’s pediatrician if you suspect this illness.


This post was written by Tobi Amosun, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician. She is a wife and mother of two who loves cooking, traveling and photography. She is fluent in Spanish and aspires that someday her house will look as fabulous as her Pinterest boards.

Infants, Early Childhood

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4 thoughts on “Understanding hand, foot and mouth disease”

  1. Lucy says:

    My 2 grandkids 1 year and 4 year old . They had high fevers , pain from sores,like blisters, on their feet toes , bottom of feet, hands nails , in their mouth eyes face ears, they cry ex a lot . After wards they had bid sores, they lost their nails on their toes and feet . With all this from start to finish about 3 months

  2. Fredia Hale says:

    My 6 yr old grandson got it typical fever, blisters. Week later his dad got it. Bottom of feet terrible. A week later mom came down with it while taking chemo for breast cancer at Vanderbilt. Her Dr Levy, there stayed in touch with her daily. Thank God, she never ran a temp. But all three lost finger nails and toe nails

  3. Candace Norris says:

    I am an adult and had it last year and it was by far the worst experience I have ever had. I never got any blisters in my mouth but had them all over my palms and soles of my feet. They peeled for several months. Soaking them in plain yogurt was the only thing that gave any relief!

  4. Tim Yaotome says:

    Thanks for the tip that a person can get ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage the pain caused by hand, foot, and mouth disease. If this were to happen to any of my guests at this weekend’s BBQ party, I would look for a pharmacy to stock up with these as early as now. Doing this will help keep everyone healthy while preventing the disease from spreading at the same time.

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