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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Diagnosis and treatment

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) tends to go away on its own without treatment and without leaving a trace.

How do dermatologists diagnose hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Most doctors can diagnose HFMD by:

  • Looking at the rash and mouth sores

  • Considering the patient’s age

  • Asking about symptoms

Sometimes, your doctor will swab your mouth or get a stool sample. In a laboratory, these can be checked for viruses that cause HFMD.

How do dermatologists treat hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

This disease goes away on its own without treatment. In most cases, HFMD is gone in 7 to 10 days.

If you or your child has pain or other symptoms, a dermatologist can provide treatment to relieve symptoms.

At home, the following can help ease symptoms of HFMD:

  • Avoid eating any food that is spicy or acidic. These foods can make the mouth sores more painful.

  • Drink cold liquids. Drinking a warm or hot beverage can be painful when someone has mouth sores. Because it’s important to stay hydrated, dermatologists recommend drinking cold liquids.

  • Reduce the fever. Avoid giving a child or teenager aspirin because aspirin can cause Reyes syndrome, which may lead to brain and liver damage. Reyes syndrome usually develops after a child (or teen) takes aspirin while fighting off a virus. HFMD is caused by viruses.

    While aspirin can cause problems, acetaminophen is generally safe and effective for reducing fever in children and teens. Just be sure to follow the dosing, which is based on a child’s weight.

    Adults can take aspirin.

  • Alleviate pain from mouth sores. Cold beverages, such as water, can help. Adults can also use a numbing mouthwash or spray to reduce the pain.

What is the outcome for someone who has hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

For most people, the disease goes away in 7 to 10 days without leaving a trace.

In the United States, it’s rare for a virus that causes HFMD to lead to a more serious disease. A few people have developed viral meningitis, which causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of viral meningitis include an excruciatingly painful headache and neck stiffness.

There have also been a few reports of people getting encephalitis (swelling in the brain). This can cause an excruciatingly painful headache and confusion.

Other problems have been reported. In a few cases, people lose one or more fingernails or toenails. Their nails usually regrow normally.

While HFMD tends to go away on its own in 7 to 10 days, it may be possible to prevent it. Find out what you can do at: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Tips for preventing

Belazarian L, Lorenzo ME, et al. “Exanthematous viral diseases.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1867-9.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Outbreaks.” Last updated December 22, 2017. Last accessed May 24, 2018.

Chiu HH, Lan CCE, et al. “Onychomadesis following hand-foot-and-mouth disease.” Cutis. 2016 May;97(5):E20-1.

Nervi SJ, Schwartz RA, et al. “Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD).” Medscape. Last updated Jun 16, 2017. Last accessed May 29, 2018.

Renda S and Sanches M. “Hand-foot-and-mouth disease in adults.” Clin Adv. August 11, 2017. Last accessed May 24, 2018.