Treating hand, foot and mouth disease 

There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. The condition usually clears up by itself after 7-10 days.

It is caused by a viral infection, meaning it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antiviral medications are also ineffective in treating hand, foot and mouth disease.

You can help ease your child’s symptoms by:

  • encouraging them to rest and to drink plenty of fluids (water or milk are ideal; avoid anything acidic like cola or orange juice)
  • offering them soft foods such as mashed potatoes and soups, as eating and swallowing will be uncomfortable
  • using medication to relieve symptoms


Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can help ease a sore throat and high temperature. For pregnant women, paracetamol is preferred to ibuprofen. Aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16.

There are a number of gels, sprays and mouthwashes available for the treatment of mouth ulcers, although it is unclear how effective they actually are.

These include:

  • topical lidocaine gel  which can be used in children of all ages
  • benzydamine mouth spray  which can be used in children aged five and over
  • benzydamine mouth rinse  which can be used in children aged 12 and over
  • choline salicylate gel  which is only suitable for adults aged 16 and above and should not be used if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Make sure you read the instructions that come with these types of medication as you can only use them a certain number of times over a course of a day.

An alternative method is to gargle with warm salty water  mix half a teaspoon of salt (2.5g) with a quarter of a litre (8 ounces) of water. It is important never to swallow the water, so this is not recommended for younger children.

If your child develops blisters, avoid piercing them as the fluid inside is infectious. The blisters should dry and then disappear within seven days.

Preventing the spread of infection

Hand, foot and mouth disease is very contagious. The best way to avoid catching and spreading is to avoid close contact with people who have the disease and to:

  • always wash your hands after going to the toilet or handling nappies, and before preparing food
  • encourage infected children to wash their hands regularly
  • avoid sharing utensils with people who are infected.
  • make sure work surfaces are clean
  • clean any bedding or clothing that could have been contaminated with droplets of saliva, blister fluid or stools in a hot wash

Work, school and nursery

If your child has hand, foot and mouth disease, you should keep them away from school or nursery while they are feeling unwell.

They can usually return as soon as they feel better. There is no need to keep your child away from school or nursery until the last blister has healed, providing they are otherwise well.

However, this advice is only a recommendation. Individual nurseries and schools can refuse to take your child until their condition has completely cleared up.

The above advice also applies to adults with hand, foot and mouth disease who want to know when to return to work.

Page last reviewed: 10/03/2014

Next review due: 10/03/2016