Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: What It Is & How to Treat It Naturally

When you’re a natural mama (or papa), one of the most confusing symptoms to stumble across is a rash. Rashes can be your simple run-of-the-mill diaper rash, a sign of baby eczema, or even chicken pox. But if you notice the rash is only on the hands, mouth, or feet, it may be a sign that baby has a case of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Whaaat?

Don’t worry, we’ll explain. In this post, we’ll cover:

  • What hand, foot, and mouth disease is
  • How long hand, foot, and mouth disease lasts
  • Plus, natural remedies and treatments

What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth, also called coxsackie virus, is an infection caused by the enterovirus. This highly contagious disease is not the same thing as foot-and-mouth, a disease that affects livestock. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is easily spread through feces and poor diaper changing practices. Well, poop💩

Hand, foot, and mouth disease earned its name from the characteristic blisters and sores that appear in the mouth and on the hands and feet. According to the CDC, the disease is most common during the summer and fall, and most often affects children aged five and younger. (source)

History of Coxsackie Virus

Have you wondered why hand, foot, and mouth disease often goes by another name? Coxsackie is actually the name of a small town just south of Albany, New York. In 1947, the first human patients to have hand, foot, and mouth disease were actually from this town. (sourceWhat a reputation to have, huh?!

Doctors and researchers paid attention to this little fact because hand, foot, and mouth is from the same group of viruses as polio: the enterovirus. Hand, foot, and mouth is not polio (fun fact: there’s more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses!), but researchers during this time were paying special attention to the various types of illnesses caused by the enterovirus.

Is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease Contagious?

Unfortunately, hand, foot, and mouth disease is highly contagious and often spreads quickly through schools and daycares.

It’s spread through:

  1. Contact with bodily fluids including saliva, nose discharge, and feces
  2. Contact with fluid from sores/blisters
  3. Contamination due to coughing and sneezing
  4. Unwashed hands touching people, items, or food

How Long Does It Take to Get Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease After Exposure?

If you were exposed to an individual with coxsackie virus, how long until you show signs of an infection? There isn’t a long incubation period with this virus. In fact, you (or your child) might begin to notice symptoms about three to seven days after initial exposure.

Do Adults Get Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Coxsackie is most common in children, especially those who go to school or daycare. The CDC estimates that the age range most at-risk is 6 months to 5 years of age. However, it is possible for adults to contract hand, foot, and mouth—especially adults with a compromised immune system, like pregnant women (more on that below!) or the elderly.

What Are the First Signs of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Despite coxsackie’s reputation for causing blisters, the sores are not the first symptom.

In fact, you might not even realize you or your child have coxsackie at first and instead think it’s the common cold (source).

The first symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease include:

  • a low-grade fever (generally 102 F or less)
  • and a sore throat—point to the common cold.

Other symptoms may include:

  1. Headache
  2. Irritability
  3. Poor appetite

About one to two days after the fever and sore throat starts, you may notice the blisters. Keep in mind that they may show up on mouth first, then hands and feet.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Pictures

Of course, nothing can replace a diagnosis from your child’s pediatrician or family doctor, but these pictures of blisters caused by hand, foot, and mouth may be helpful to you.

May start with mouth sores…

(source)

Then move onto hand and feet sores…

(source)

How Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Treated?

There is no cure for the Coxsackie virus. Rather, hand, foot, and mouth disease often goes away on its own within a week or so without any hospitalizations or major medical interventions. The exception is if your child becomes too dehydrated (due to the mouth sores) and needs IV fluids. This is rare, but it is important help your child stay hydrated during this illness.

You’ll want to visit your child’s pediatrician to confirm diagnosis and rule out any other conditions, but at-home remedies for comfort only are generally recommended.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Home Remedies

Has your child just received a diagnosis of coxsackie? Check your pantry because many of these at-home remedies can be found in your kitchen! To provide relief:

Drink plenty of water

Dehydration is one of the biggest concerns with the coxsackie virus, because the blisters in the mouth are so uncomfortable. Encourage your child to drink often, and keep super hydrating fluids on hand. In addition to water, consider giving your child: 

  • electrolyte drinks
  • coconut water
  • fruit-infused water
  • herbal tea (some Chinese herbs listed below can be made into a “tea”)
  • bone broth
  • and milk

Tip: Avoid anything that might sting the sores, such as citrus juice or seltzer water.

Suck on popsicles and ice cubes

Many children find the coldness of popsicles or ice cubes dulls the pain and discomfort of the blisters. If you opt for popsicles, choose real fruit popsicles without any added food dyes.

Real mama tip: “We froze little tubs of Greek yogurt. The cold yogurt was the only thing my son could eat at the peak of his illness. The cold was so soothing to his poor mouth. But I felt good about him eating the yogurt.”  — Jennifer from Chicago

Try oil pulling

If your child is old enough and game, you can see if he will oil pull. Oil pulling is beneficial in two ways. First, oil pulling has been proven to reduce the number of bacteria and viruses in the mouth. Second, the oil itself can soothe the mouth and reduce pain and discomfort. In fact, coconut oil is one of the main healing components among many cultures, including Polynesians medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, and even Chinese medicine. (source)

Apply coconut oil to external rashes

In addition to soothing the mouth sores, coconut oil can also be used to sooth hand and foot blisters, too. According to The Coconut Oil MiraclePolynesians who use coconut oil externally rarely see skin problems—coconut oil nourishes skin and provides antiseptic benefits.

Tip: Be sure to use a clean spoon to scoop out coconut oil and don’t “double dip” to avoid contaminating your jar of oil.

Take an oatmeal bath

What’s better than a bath that relaxes a tired, sick child? A relaxing bath that also helps heal a tired, sick child! Oatmeal baths are popular remedies for chicken pox, and they work wonderfully in the case of the coxsackie virus, too! Colloidal oatmeal has been studied to sooth inflamed skin, including skin that is erupted in acne, blisters, or other oozy sores. This product is all ready to be put in bath for instant relief!

Tip: Apply coconut oil to your child’s skin right after the bath.

Eat quercetin-rich food

In a study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers noted that quercetin—a flavonoid, or antioxidant, commonly used in Chinese medicine—was effective in reducing inflammation and preventing or “blocking” viral replication. Quercetin-rich foods include capers (extremely high quercertin content!), onions, apples, and elderberries.

Tip: You can add the capers and onions to a chicken noodle soup without much complaint. Or, make a smoothie with apples and elderberry juice.

Try astragalus

According to research noted in the Chinese Medicine Science Journal, astragalus, a flowering plant with numerous health benefits, prevented viral infections from spreading to myocardial (heart) tissue. This root, which is usually prepared as a tea or tincture, is also helpful because it is an anti-inflammatory and helps boost the immune system.

Tip: This is the only brand I would administer to children. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for dosage listed on bottle.

Take probiotics

Probiotics are often used to help rebuild gut health after a round of antibiotics or to support the digestive system when dealing with GI issues like diarrhea, but one study published in Biotechnology, Biotechnical Engineering suggest probiotics can help the body recover and heal from hand, foot, and mouth disease, too. Specifically, the strain Bifidobacterium adolescentis demonstrated antiviral activity that helped manage the coxsackie virus. Probiotic-rich yogurt is another good idea to offer your child!

Tip: This probiotic strain is harder to find in supplement form, but I did find one on the market here. It’s well-priced too!

How Long Does Coxsackie Last?

If your little one has the coxsackie virus, you probably want to know how long the disease will last. The good news is that it doesn’t last terribly long—about a week. Call your doctor if symptoms don’t improve within 10 days or if you witness signs of dehydration.

Look for:

  • decreased urine output
  • dry mouth
  • excessive thirst
  • muscle cramps
  • and persistent nausea

Fingernails or Toenails Falling Off?!

Keep in mind: About a month after the disease, you may notice that your child’s fingernails and/or toenails fall off. This is completely normal and happens as a result of the blisters damaging the nail bed. Rest assured, all of the nails will grow back in normally in about three to six months (up to 12 months for the toenails). (source)

Can You Get Hand, Foot, and Mouth Twice?

Like chicken pox, you might have heard that you can only get the Coxsackie virus once, but is that true? Generally speaking, most people do build up an immunity after exposure, but it is possible to contract hand, foot, and mouth disease multiple times. This is particularly true in someone with a weakened immune system.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease While Pregnant

Pregnant women are at greater risk of developing hand, foot, and mouth disease, because of a lowered immune system. And if you are pregnant when your little one comes down with the coxsackie virus, you might worry whether it will affect your unborn baby.

Early pregnancy: If you get hand, foot, and mouth disease early in pregnancy, it’s usually not cause for concern as long as your fever stays below 100 degrees. Always check in with your healthcare provider and be sure to drink plenty of water.

End of pregnancy: If you get coxsackie near the end of pregnancy, on the other hand, there is a small chance you could pass the virus to your baby. If you’re near the end of pregnancy or have a newborn, it’s very important to follow the steps below to ensure your newborn doesn’t get hand, foot, and mouth disease. Though most newborns who contract the disease have mild illness, the risk of complication is higher, especially in the first two weeks of life. (source)

But don’t fret too much: According to the CDC, there is no evidence that this virus contributes to miscarriages or stillbirths.

As always, it’s a good idea to continue to practice good hygiene—wash hands frequently (especially after changing diapers or using the bathroom), sanitize toys, surfaces, and door knobs with natural cleaners, and wash towels after each use to prevent the virus from spreading. If an older child contracts coxsackie, see if your partner can do more of the hands-on parenting until the disease passes. It’s hard to be away from your baby, but if possible, spending a few days in separate rooms can help ensure you don’t get hand, foot, and mouth disease while pregnant.

How to Prevent Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

The best way to prevent hand, foot, and mouth disease is to have a good offense. That means practicing good hygiene and supporting your immune system.

Wash hands thoroughly

When it comes to good hygiene, wash your hands for at least 20 full seconds each and every time! Wash your hands before/after preparing food and after using the restroom—that includes changing diapers or helping a toddler use the restroom!

Clean household surfaces

In addition to washing your hands, good hygiene practices include cleaning household surfaces (including door handles and counters) with a natural cleaner.

Limit cross-contamination

Teach small children not to share drinks or snacks at school. And if your toddlers chew on toys, clean them regularly.

Boost your immune system

When it comes to boosting your immune system, stock up on bone broth, probiotics, and vitamin C-rich foods, like berries and oranges.

How About You?

Has your little one had hand, foot, and mouth disease? Which natural remedies worked best for you?

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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2 Comments

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  1. Thank you so much for this article it has helped a lot my 3 year old just came down with HFMD and my scared my 3 month old is going to get it. I’ve been using essential oils on him and making him wash his hands all the time. I’m going to try the coconut oil and get some popsicles for him.

  2. time to be more aware thank u for this article…letting our be children more careful is what we have tot take care of…thanks for this tips.

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