Hand, foot and mouth disease

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral illness. It causes sores and rashes on the hands, feet and mouths of babies and children. Read on to find about the signs and symptoms as well as treatments.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common illness that tends to affect children. It can cause rashes and sores on the hands, feet and mouth. It’s a self-limiting illness, meaning that it usually goes away within a week.

What are the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease?

The symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease happen in stages. In the first few days, hand, foot and mouth disease will feel like any other viral infection. The early stage symptoms include:

  • A sore throat

  • Cough

  • A high temperature

  • Not wanting to eat, feeling uncomfortable and tummy pain

After the first few days, more symptoms might start to appear, such as:

  • Mouth sores and blisters, which make eating and drinking painful. They tend to appear on the roof of the mouth, inside of the cheek and tongue.

  • After mouth blisters, pink or red spots and rashes on the hands, feet, thighs or bottom develop.

  • These spots may start to ulcerate and crust over, becoming painful and end up turning grey.

  • Babies will tend to have more spots and blisters across their bodies, while older children and adults might only get them around their mouths.

  • After about 7-10 days of the first symptoms starting, the sores, blisters and rashes will disappear without leaving a mark. 

Although the disease tends to happen most in babies and children, adults can also get hand, foot and mouth.

How common is hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is very common, usually affecting children under the age of 10, although it can also affect adults. The virus tends to spread more easily in late summer and early autumn. As it’s so contagious, it’s common for the disease to spread throughout households, nurseries and classrooms.

What causes hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually caused by the coxsackie virus – a type of virus that can live in our digestive tract. The virus is very contagious and usually spreads from person to person when someone with the virus touches a surface with unwashed hands. It can also be spread by coughing, sneezing, and via blisters.

How do you stop hand, foot and mouth disease spreading?

Unfortunately, it takes a couple of days before you start feeling ill with the disease, so you might be infecting other people without knowing it. But you’re mostly likely to spread it in the first 5 days after symptoms start. There are a few easy ways to prevent spreading as much as possible:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap 

  • Use tissues to cough and sneeze into, to trap germs, and dispose of tissues as soon as possible

  • Don’t share towels, cups or cutlery

  • Wash bedding and clothing on a hot wash

If your child is unwell then it’s best to keep your child off school or nursery until the illness has passed.

How is hand, foot and mouth disease diagnosed?

A doctor will first ask a few questions about the symptoms, and they will look at the rashes, spots and sores.

This will usually be enough to confirm the diagnosis and no other tests are needed unless the doctor suspects there is another cause for this.

How is hand, foot and mouth disease treated?

There’s currently no treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. As it is caused by a virus, antibiotics would not be effective. Our own bodies can usually fight off the infection in 7-10 days without any medical intervention.

Still, there are some things that might help make you or your child feel more comfortable:

  • Drink plenty of water and stay well hydrated

  • Eat soft foods and avoid spicy or acidic foods

  • Take ibuprofen or paracetamol if you can, for the pain. Avoid aspirin in babies and children

  • Talk to a pharmacist for advice about treating mouth ulcers. They could recommend mouth ulcer gels, sprays and mouthwashes

  • Creams and topical ointments can be used to help heal the skin, such as zinc oxide or petroleum jelly

When should I speak to a doctor?

This disease isn’t usually dangerous and symptoms should eventually pass on their own. However, speak to a doctor if.

  • Symptoms suddenly get worse or you have difficulty swallowing

  • Symptoms don’t go away after 10 days

  • You or your child has a very high temperature, or feels hot and shivery

  • Your child is dehydrated and not peeing as much as they should

  • You’ve got this disease while pregnant

How can Livi help with hand, foot and mouth disease?

A Livi healthcare professional can help to diagnose the disease and with self-care treatments.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi