Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) - Stages, Symptoms, Causes & Recovery Options | Max Hospital

A Complete Guide to Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

By Dr. Sanjay Dhall in Internal Medicine

Jan 16 , 2024 | 5 min read

What is Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HFMD)? 

HFMD is a contagious infection caused by enteroviruses, typically the coxsackievirus. It spreads through direct contact with unwashed hands, contaminated surfaces, and exposure to saliva, stool, or respiratory secretions. While people of all ages can be affected, it commonly occurs in children under 5.

Stages of Hand Foot Mouth Disease 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease typically progresses through several stages:

  • Incubation period: This is the time between the initial infection and the onset of symptoms. It usually lasts from 3 to 6 days.
  • Early symptoms: The illness often begins with a fever, sore throat, reduced appetite, and malaise. This stage lasts a few days.
  • Oral lesions: Small, red spots or sores may appear in the mouth, particularly on the tongue, gums, and inner cheeks. These may develop into painful mouth ulcers.
  • Skin rash: Red spots or blisters can appear on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and sometimes on the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area. This usually occurs a day or two after the onset of oral lesions.
  • Resolution: The symptoms gradually resolve over a week or two. The mouth sores and skin rash will heal, and the fever should subside.

Signs & Symptoms of Hand Foot Mouth Disease 

Here are some specific signs and symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD):

  • Irritability: Infants and young children may become more irritable and fussy.
  • Loss of appetite: The infection can reduce the desire to eat or drink.
  • Throat pain: Sore throat is a common early symptom, often accompanied by difficulty swallowing.
  • Headache: Some individuals with HFMD may experience headaches, adding to the overall discomfort.
  • Malaise: A general feeling of discomfort or unease may accompany the illness.
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea: In some cases, particularly in young children, HFMD can cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Dehydration: Due to the painful sores in the mouth, children may avoid drinking fluids, leading to a risk of dehydration. Seeking prompt medical attention, including skin allergy treatment if applicable, is crucial for a speedy recovery.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Causes

The virus is typically transmitted through:

  • Direct contact: Touching a person infected with the virus or coming into contact with surfaces or objects that have the virus on them.
  • Respiratory droplets: Inhaling respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • Faecal-oral route: Contact with faecal matter, as the virus can be present in an infected person's stool.
  • Contaminated objects: Touching surfaces or objects with the virus on them and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Who is at Risk for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Young children face the most significant risk of contracting HFMD, especially if they attend daycare or school, where the viruses can quickly spread. Immunity often develops in children after exposure, explaining why the disease is uncommon in people over 10. Nevertheless, older children and adults with weakened immune systems can still be susceptible to the infection. Seeking advice from a paediatrician is essential, especially for vulnerable groups.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Diagnosis

Diagnosing hand, foot, and mouth disease typically involves a healthcare professional evaluating the symptoms and medical history. They may also consider factors like recent exposure to someone with HFMD. In some cases, laboratory tests, that involve throat swabs or stool samples, may be conducted to confirm the presence of enteroviruses.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Treatment

In most cases, the infection tends to resolve on its own within 7 to 10 days without needing specific treatment. However, healthcare providers may suggest certain remedies to alleviate symptoms during the illness. These recommendations might include:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter topical ointments to provide relief for blisters and rashes.
  • Pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to alleviate headaches.
  • Medicated syrups or tablets to ease the discomfort of a sore throat.

It's important to note that aspirin should be avoided in children with viral infections, as it can potentially lead to Reye's syndrome.

Home Remedies for Hand Foot Mouth Disease 

Individuals experiencing HFMD symptoms can explore various at-home remedies to alleviate discomfort from blisters. These may include:

  • Sucking on ice or popsicles
  • Consuming ice cream or sherbet
  • Drinking cold beverages
  • Moderating the intake of citrus fruits, fruit drinks, and soda
  • Restricting the consumption of spicy or salty foods

Swishing warm salt water in the mouth can be beneficial for relief from mouth blisters and throat sores. This can be done several times a day or as necessary.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Complications

Hand, foot, and mouth disease typically manifests as a minor illness with a fever and mild symptoms lasting a few days. In rare cases, the enterovirus responsible for the disease can lead to severe complications, including:

  • Viral meningitis: A rare infection causing inflammation of the membranes (meninges) and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
  • Encephalitis: A severe and potentially life-threatening condition involving inflammation of the brain. Encephalitis is also rare in the context of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Prevention

Reducing the risk of hand, foot, and mouth disease can be achieved through various measures:

  • Frequent handwashing: Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds, particularly after using the toilet or changing a diaper, before preparing or consuming food, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose. In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitiser can be used.
  • Promoting good hygiene: Encourage children to adopt proper handwashing practices and overall good hygiene. Emphasise the importance of avoiding putting fingers, hands, or objects in the mouth.
  • Disinfecting common areas: Regularly clean high-traffic areas and surfaces with soap and water, followed by a diluted chlorine bleach and water solution. In childcare settings, adhere to a strict schedule for cleaning and disinfecting, focusing on commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs and shared items such as toys.
  • Minimising close contact: Given the high contagion of hand, foot, and mouth disease, individuals exhibiting symptoms should limit their contact with others. Children with the illness should stay away from childcare or school until the fever subsides and mouth sores have healed. Those with the infection should also stay home from work.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease Recovery 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually gets better on its own. It takes about 7 to 10 days for the symptoms to improve. During this time, a person might feel uncomfortable with things like a fever, a sore throat, and a rash on their skin.

Final words

If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing hand, foot, and mouth disease symptoms, it's crucial to seek prompt medical help. The experienced healthcare professionals at Max Hospitals are ready to offer personalised care and guidance, ensuring an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment options for HFMD. Don't let concerns or uncertainty prevent you from seeking help. Reach out to the dedicated experts at Max Hospitals to receive the support and specialised care necessary to address Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease and facilitate a swift recovery towards comfort and well-being.

Written and Verified by: