Can Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Be Treated?

By Ashley McClary, MD

In the past few months, many families have asked about “hand, foot and mouth disease” as they’ve heard of cases at their child’s daycare or school. Given the timeliness of this rising concern, let’s talk about what it is, what to look for, preventing it and relieving its symptoms.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common illness caused by an enterovirus. This group of viruses are found throughout the world and spread most often through close contact of an infected individual. If your child is exposed to the hand, foot and mouth virus, he or she may show signs of the illness within three to six days.

Infants and children less than 5 years of age are affected by hand, foot and mouth more often than older children and adults. Generally, a fever lasting one to two days will be the first sign of illness. The fever is then followed by painful mouth sores. While some children will only develop sores in their mouth, also called herpangina, others may also develop a rash of red, flat dots or blisters on their palms and soles. If the rash appears in all three places, the child has developed hand, foot and mouth disease.

Although this is the typical presentation, it’s important to note that there is a range of severity seen with this disease – some may not have symptoms at all, while others exhibit a rash throughout their body.  Loss of fingernails or toenails may occur within a few weeks but this is only temporary. Complications such as encephalitis or meningitis have been reported but are extremely rare. After five to seven days from symptom onset, most children are back to their happy, healthy selves.

There is no treatment for hand, foot and mouth but there are ways to help your child feel better. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen can be used to treat fever and pain. For older children, there are mouthwashes and sprays to help ease discomfort – some children will refuse to drink secondary to the pain, so they risk becoming dehydrated. It’s therefore very important to encourage your child to drink liquids or eat popsicles throughout their illness.

Despite the commonality and striking rash of hand, foot and mouth disease, the illness is typically self-limiting.  Remember, good handwashing techniques, avoiding close contact with others who have the disease and comforting your child if he or she does become ill are the best ways to ensure the health of your child.


Ashley McClary, MD, is a pediatrician with Mission Pediatrics – McDowell.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. McClary or for further inquiries, call 828-652-6386. Learn more at missionchildrens.org [1].