Common summer illnesses in children

Children summertime

Infections and illnesses in children during the summer are more common than you might think. Bacteria thrive in the warm, moist environments of summertime. This article aims to help increase your awareness of such conditions, and hopefully will help prevent your families becoming unwell over the holiday.


Many kids love swimming in oceans and lakes, but swallowing the water puts them at risk of exposure to enteroviruses, spread by faecal contamination in water. Symptoms range from common cold symptoms to infection of the heart or brain. Hand, foot and mouth disease is a form of enterovirus that is highly contagious (spread via saliva, mucus and faeces). It causes blisters on the hands, feet and mouth, general discomfort, fever, sore throat, and oral ulcers. The illness usually passes within ten days and doesn’t require treatment. A saltwater mouth rinse could help soothe the pain from mouth ulcers, as well as cool, soft foods eg jelly. But if your child becomes dehydrated due to reduced fluid intake or develops a high fever, seek medical help.

Whooping cough

Another infection that is particularly prevalent in summer.  It is a highly contagious bacterial lung/airways infection that causes repeated bouts of coughing and can make babies and young children very ill. Vaccination and good hygiene are excellent preventatives, so remind your kids about frequent handwashing.

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa)

This is an infection of the outer ear canal which occurs when water remains trapped in the ear, aiding bacterial growth. Symptoms include the ear feeling full and itchy, and can be extremely painful. Some children may experience temporary hearing loss.  Try to prevent water from getting stuck in the ear canal- dry your chidrens’ ears thoroughly after swimming or showering using a towel. Wearing earplugs whilst in water may also help.

Food poisoning

This reaches it peak in summer because of fast bacterial growth in heat. Norovirus is a super contagious stomach bug transmitted through contaminated water or food, from contact with an infected person or through touching a contaminated surface. It tends to be most severe in the young. Prevent food poisoning and norovirus through great hygiene, lots of hand washing and adequate refrigeration of food.

Lyme disease

Peaks in summer months when people are exposed to ticks in gardens and woods. Early treatment is necessary to prevent the disease from spreading to the nervous system, joints and heart. See a doctor if your child experiences fever, headache, body aches, rash, facial paralysis or arthritis after a tick bite. Prevent tick bites by using a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET on exposed skin, and one that contains the insecticide permethrin on clothing. Always check for tick bites after coming in from a wooded or bushy area. If the tick bite spreads in anyway or your child becomes unwell after a tick bite it is best to seek medical assessment sooner rather than later.

Asthma and hay fever

Summer can be a dangerous time for kids with asthma. More air pollution, high pollen levels and increased mold growth due to high humidity all cause a spike in asthma attacks and hay fever. It is a good idea to take your child for an asthma review during the summer to ensure he/she is on the best inhaler/medication regime to avoid exacerbation of asthma and most effectively treat hay fever symptoms.


This occurs when too much time has been spent in the sun, causing a rise in body temperature. Sunstroke may cause rapid pulse, disorientation, nausea, a dry swollen tongue and dehydrated, hot skin. In extreme cases, sunstroke may cause your child to become unconscious. In order to avoid sunstroke try and keep your kids in the shade during the heat of the day and ensure that they keep hydrated by providing them with lots of fluids.

Heat rash

This is typically a red or pink rash, usually on the head, neck and shoulders, resulting in itching and discomfort. Dress your kids in light clothing to help prevent it occurring. It usually goes away after a day or two and doesn’t usually require medical attention.

Author: Dr Sumi Soori (MBBS MRCGP DRCOG) is a Private General Practitioner at Roseneath Medical Practice in Richmond. She has a strong interest in paediatrics and women’s health.