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Five common childhood illnesses: A parent's guide

Riddle Hospital December 18, 2015 General Wellness

Try as you might to keep your kids healthy and germ-free, even the most diligent parent won’t be able to prevent some commonly shared illnesses.

“Schools, playgrounds, extra-curricular activities, even play dates at home are a breeding ground for contagious illnesses, especially during winter,” says Betsy Race, MD, pediatrician at Riddle Hospital. “Anticipating these illnesses and knowing what to do to prevent and treat them can help take away some of the anxiety that comes with a sick child.”

Below, Dr. Race outlines five common illnesses that are easily passed among children, and explains their causes and treatments.

Pink eye

Fortunately it doesn’t take much to treat pink eye, but it also doesn’t take much to contract it. A highly contagious disease, pink eye is passed on by sharing items like eye drops, makeup, towels, or pillowcases, but a bacterial form of the disease can also be caused by nasal discharge getting into the eye. Play it safe by washing little hands with soap and water and keeping them away from the eyes, and encouraging your child not to share items that come in contact with the face or eyes.

Strep throat

Sore throats are bound to happen, but you’ll know strep throat when you have it. The most common cause of strep is a result of unwashed hands and uncovered sneezes and coughs, which means it’s usually hard to prevent, despite your best efforts. Still, teach your kids to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze and refrain from sharing food, drinks, or napkins. If you do think your child has strep throat, contact your doctor to be cultured and started on antibiotics, if necessary.


Every parent hopes that lice is one thing they won’t have to deal with, but the truth is that it’s a common health problem for kids 12 and under. Sharing hats, brushes, and other hair accessories make it especially easy for lice to travel. If your child complains of an itchy scalp, use a lice comb or your hands to look closely at their scalp for quarter inch gray colored bugs or tiny clear bumps near the scalp. These are signs of lice, which means it’s time for an anti-louse shampoo and thorough cleaning of clothes, bed sheets, and any other potentially infected materials.

Walking pneumonia

This is the most common type of pneumonia for school-age children. As its name indicates, it’s an illness that most kids might not even notice and continue to “walk” around with. Keep an eye out for cold-like symptoms, a low-grade fever, and a hacking cough. If your child does come down with a case of walking pneumonia, it can usually be treated with antibiotics and be cured after medication and a few days at home.


The norovirus is not a fun disease, as both parents and kids can tell you. The highly-contagious bug is marked by gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps and can be brought on by germy surfaces, unwashed hands, and coughs and sneezes. If your child does come down with the norovirus, keep them home from school and prevent them from getting dehydrated with plenty of fluids and foods like popsicles or Italian ice.

Main Line Health has an extensive network of pediatricians, pediatric specialists and family practice physicians at our hospitals and health centers, including those with night and weekend hours available at the Main Line Health Broomall and the Main Line Health Exton Square. Visit our website to find a pediatrician or family practice physician in your area.