The complete A to Z of nursery illnesses

Find out what your tot could bring home – apart from a drawing – and how to treat those bugs and scrapes


A for Asthma

Your tot can’t catch asthma, but running around in cold weather can set it off. Practical Parenting’s health visitor Annette Maloney says, “Signs to watch out for are wheezing and colds that go on and on.” Catherine Short, nurse and author of Asthma: The Essential Guide, says “Visit a GP, who’ll prescribe an inhaler for your little one to take to nursery with him.”


B for stings and bug bites

Outdoor play can lead to encounters with insects. Stings from bees and wasps are painful but not dangerous, unless your child’s allergic, in which case nursery staff will recognise this and get emergency medical care. “Apply a soothing lotion like calamine,” says Catherine.

C for Chickenpox

Chickenpox is highly contagious and is often caught in the nursery years. “It appears as itchy blisters that take a week to clear,” explains Dr Susan Mayou, consultant dermatologist at Cadogan Clinic. “Visit the GP and keep your tot off nursery for five days after the rash appears.”

D for Diarrhoea

Extremely common among little ones, here’s how to tackle the symptoms. “It may be linked to the winter vomiting virus which also dehydrates your child, so keep him on fluids but avoid milk,” says Catherine. It typically lasts for two to three days and then passes, but do take your tot to the doctor if it continues.

E for Eczema

If your child’s skin has dry patches that flare up and subside, then he or she may have eczema. “Your child’s skin will be redder than usual, and will go yellow and crusty if infected,” says Susan. “It can often be treated with an unperfumed moisturiser and most kids grow out of it.”

F for Flu

Along with winter comes the inevitable flu. It’s similar to a cold but the symptoms are worse. “Typical signs are a runny nose, sore throat and fever,” explains Catherine. “Apart from visiting a GP, have your child rest in bed and give her plenty of fluids.” Infant paracetamol is good for bringing down a fever and battling aches and pains.

G for Cuts and grazes

Physical play is essential but can end in tumbles. “Grazes are easy to attend to. Wipe with water and clean cotton wool to remove dirt and germs, and then cover with a plaster,” says health visitor Angela Davy. “For cuts, clean and apply antiseptic cream, and always cover with a plaster.”

H for Heat rash

Unexpected hot autumn days can bring on heat rash. “Tots can develop an itchy rash if they’ve been exposed to the sun for too long,” says Susan. “It’ll go, but keep your child cool, hydrated and out of the sun.” Put SPF50 suncream on them before they set off for nursery.

I for Impetigo

“This is a highly contagious skin infection. It appears as a cluster of red blisters around the nose and mouth, that ooze and spread rapidly,” says Catherine. “Your child will need antibiotics in an oral or cream form. Once treated, it usually clears up in a week.”

J for Jittery Bowels

Once your child starts nursery she’ll probably be out of nappies, but might have relapses. “Stay calm and patient,” says Angela. “If accidents continue, you can go back to nappies as your child may not be ready for the change.”

K for Kicks and Bites

Imaginative play can lead to skirmishes. “Children kicking each other is normal, and usually a bruise will come up. It will clear up on its own.” explains Angela. “If your child’s been bitten, a red patch with teeth marks will appear. Keep it open to the air.”

L for head Lice

Close contact with other tots means your child’s more likely to catch head lice. “Lice are insects that live on the head. It takes seven days for the eggs to hatch and your child could have an infestation long before the itching starts,” says Catherine.

M for Meningitis

 It’s important to know the symptoms because they require urgent medical attention. “They include stomach pains and headache, fever, cold hands and feet, neck stiffness, a dislike of bright light, vomiting and often a rash, that can appear anywhere on the body,” says Catherine. “If you think your child may have meningitis, don’t wait to see your GP, go straight to A&E,” says Annette Maloney.

N for Nosebleeds

Active play or even a mild cold could make your tot’s nose bleed. Angela has this advice to stop the flow: “Lean your child’s head forward and pinch the hard cartilage at the middle of the nose, applying pressure for a few minutes.”

O for Otitis Externa

Aka earache, and caused by inflammation of the ear canal, usually due to an infection. “The main symptom is pain if the ear’s pressed or tugged,” says Catherine Short. Antibiotic eardrops from the GP should clear it up.

P for Prickly Heat

Similar to heat rash, this is easily treatable. “The rash occurs on places such as the neck, because the skin there gets overheated easily,” explains Susan Mayou. Treat by keeping your tot cool, hydrated and dress her in loose, natural fibres. Calamine lotion will help ease symptoms.

Q for Quinsy

Quinsy is a rare but serious complication of tonsillitis. “It causes an abscess to develop in the throat, leaving your child unable to swallow,” says Catherine. “If you see these signs, take your child straight to A&E to get the abscess drained, and then he’ll be put on antibiotics for a quick recovery.”

R for Rubella

Rubella (German measles) is a mild infection but can be dangerous if not treated. “It has a distinctive brown/red rash. Your child will also have a temperature, swollen glands and maybe a runny nose or sore throat,” explains Angela Davey. “Vaccination’s the key.”

S for Sore Throats

This is usually caused by an infection that makes your child’s throat painful and can make it uncomfortable to swallow. “In some cases it may turn into tonsillitis,” says Catherine. Take your child to the GP to see if treatment’s needed.

T for Threadworms

Threadworms are common. The main sign is your child scratching at his bottom,” says Angela. Treat the whole family with tablets from the pharmacist and discourage nail-biting and finger sucking to stop re-infection.

U for Upset Stomach

Nursery’s fun but not always for the tum. Where children are in close contact, tummy bugs are common. “Give them fluids. In two to three days it should clear up,” says Angela.

V for Viral conjunctivitis

Causes sore red eyes and watery discharge. It’s rarely serious but very contagious so keep your child off nursery. Gently clean their eyes with cotton wool and cooled boiled water. If there’s pus in the eye, it may be bacterial conjunctivitis and could need antibiotics.

W for Winter vomiting

This dreaded bug, caused by the norovirus, is nasty but shortlived. Symptoms are vomiting, diarrhoea and fever, so make sure your tot stays hydrated if suffering. Encourage regular hand washing to fend it off in the first place.

X for Xtreme Nausea

Nausea and diarrhoea may be caused by food poisoning, a virus, bacteria or a reaction to medicine. Children can quickly become dehydrated so Annette advises taking any child with serious sickness to A&E.

Y for Yeast Infection

“Similar to nappy rash, a yeast infection (or thrush) is often found in the groin area. The rash is more defined and deep red. It can be easily treated by health professionals who’ll prescribe the right medicine,” says Catherine Short.

ZZZZ… for Sleep Problems

What if your tot’s newly settled at nursery but starts waking up at night? “It could be something simple like a little tummy ache,” says Angela Davey. “But some children wake because brain development’s taking place. It’s perfectly natural and nothing to worry about.”

Mums’ stories

“My little one started nursery and caught a cold when some of the other children became unwell. I was worried at first but realised it’s natural for kids to share illnesses as it helps to build their immune system. I got Mason to rest and gave him Calpol and lots of TLC.”

Samantha Fenn, 22, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, mum to Mason, 10 months

“Head lice have always been a problem as my daughter’s hair is long, thick and wavy. I found lotions didn’t work, so I bought a Nitty Gritty comb instead. It works a treat, and now when I wash her hair, I can simply comb the lice out.”


Michala Dominey, 32, from Bishopstoke in Hampshire, mum to Ella, 5, and Robyn, 20 months

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