Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection that causes mouth ulcers and tiny blisters on the hands and feet. It is a harmless viral rash that can be treated at home. 

It mainly occurs in children ages 6 months to 4 years, and the rash is usually accompanied by a low-grade fever. There can be blisters in the mouth (especially on the tongue and sides of mouth), as well as on the palms, soles and webs between the fingers and toes. Children can develop this disease more than once because it is caused by various viruses.


  1. Apply a small amount of liquid antacid to the front of the mouth four times a day after meals.
  2. Control pain and fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  3. Feed your child soft foods to decrease pain in the mouth. Avoid citrus, salty and spicy foods. If needed, feed infants using a cup instead of bottle feeding because the nipple can cause pain.


Hand, foot and mouth disease is quite contagious, but is mild and harmless. The time between exposure and the onset of symptoms is 3 to 6 days. Children can return to school or daycare after the fever is gone.

Expected Course:

The fever should resolve within 2 to 3 days. The mouth ulcers should resolve within 7 days. The rash on the hands and feet may last up to 10 days.

When to call the doctor:

  • Signs of dehydration (i.e. child refusing to drink, no urination, weak or limp)
  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Sores on the outer lips
  • Fever more than 3 days
  • Child becomes worse

This article was written by Courtney Moore, RN, a pediatric nurse on the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line.


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