Natural Remedies for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

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Natural Remedies for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Remedies » Natural Remedies for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

I always prefer natural remedies for illness when it’s appropriate since they often shorten illness (rather than just relieve symptoms). Hand, foot, and mouth disease (strange as the name may be) is just another illness that is usually best tended to at home.

What Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFM) is a viral infection usually caused by the coxsackievirus. It is about as serious as a bad cold or flu (read: not that serious), except for in very rare cases.

However, it is highly contagious and very uncomfortable and unpleasant for children. HFM typically affects children five and under, and sometimes as old as 10. Occasionally adults may contract it, although it is usually milder.

The incubation period (the time between contracting the virus and developing symptoms) is three to six days. HFM is most contagious in the first week after symptoms begin but can be contagious during the incubation period and for days and weeks after recovery.

It is important to note that hand, foot, and mouth disease is not the same as foot and mouth (aka hoof and mouth) disease, which is an unrelated disease affecting farm animals.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

HFM can be confused with strep throat or chicken pox so keeping an eye on symptoms is important.

Early symptoms include:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • reduced appetite
  • general feeling of being unwell

A day or two after the fever begins, painful sores can develop in the mouth (which may turn into blisters). Flat, red sores or a red rash often appear on the hands and feet as well (they may also appear in the knee, elbow, genital, or buttock areas). These sores/rashes may turn into blisters and are often painful but not itchy.

Because the sores in the mouth can cause children and infants to not want to drink, dehydration is another possible side effect and something to watch out for.

While hand, foot, and mouth isn’t usually dangerous, in rare instances viral meningitis or encephalitis may occur with HFM. Additionally, some children who get hand, foot, and mouth end up losing their fingernails and toenails as they recover —  a little alarming! — but this is usually temporary and nails grow back quickly. (In mild cases, this may be the only sign that there was an infection to begin with!)

Ways to Avoid Hand, Foot, and Mouth

Hand, foot, and mouth disease spreads through body fluids and close personal contact. Children in childcare settings are more likely to contract HFM simply because they are in close quarters with other children (and young children tend to put everything in their mouths!).

If someone in your social circle or family has HFM it’s a good idea to go into prevention mode for the rest of your family. Wash hands frequently and avoid contact with ill people and infected items (like tissues).

Additionally, exclusive breastfeeding protects against HFM infections, according to one study.

Other ways to stave off hand, foot, and mouth infection are:

Immune-Boosting Remedies for Hand, Foot, and Mouth

Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics won’t work (and could be harmful). Because HFM is almost always mild, treatment is more about making the patient comfortable and supporting the immune system.

Hmm… I have some natural remedies around the house that do just that!

Hydration

Since dehydration is a big concern, getting the child enough fluids is one of the first things to consider. If the child isn’t up for drinking because of the mouth sores, try offering homemade popsicles made with coconut water or elderberries. The coldness of the popsicle should help soothe the sores and get much needed fluid into the child. Electrolyte drinks, herbal teas, coconut water, and bone broth are other ways to improve hydration.

Healthy Foods

Though food isn’t a big concern during illness (it’s more important for the body to focus on healing than on digestion) it’s still important to stick with the highest quality nutrient-dense foods that the child can stomach. Bone broth is one great example as it can be soothing to the throat and mouth but also contains a lot of nutrients. Another food that can have a big impact on healing is coconut oil as it’s antiviral and can help fight the virus (good for healing mouth sores, too). Avoid acidic foods that can irritate mouth sores further.

Herbs

Almost all herbs have some medicinal use but some are better suited for kids than others. Herbs with antiviral properties that taste good are best for kids who have HFM or other viral infections. These include:

  • Lemon Balm – A calming herb similar to chamomile that is also antiviral. Lemon balm is one of the safest herbs for children and infants. I use it as a tea.
  • Calendula – An incredible healing herb, calendula is mild flavored and great in a tea for healing mouth sores. It can also be sprayed on hand and foot sores for better healing. Calendula is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial which can help avoid a secondary infection in the sores. I order it in bulk here.
  • Elderberry – Possibly the tastiest herb available, elderberry is usually well received by kids of all ages and is a potent antiviral. Make it into syrup or as a tea.
  • AstragalusOne study found that astragalus has antiviral properties, specifically when the virus that causes HFM is present. This is another one that’s easy to take as a tea.
  • Quercetin – A flavonoid found in rooibos tea, apples, dark berries and cherries, peppers, cruciferous veggies, leafy veggies, sage, and much more. Quercetin has been shown to fight the coxsackie virus. Get it from food or a high quality supplement.

There are many other antiviral herbs but they have stronger tastes. If you’re not sure if your child will accept the strong taste, consider using a tincture instead. A tincture can often be masked with a nice spoonful of raw honey. Other immune-boosting herbs that can be used in tea, tincture, or food are:

Tip: Add more robust herbs (like oregano and rosemary) to bone broth instead of a tea for a better flavor combination.

Supplements

While an illness isn’t always the best time to push the maintenance supplements (especially if the patient is having trouble swallowing), I find thatProbiotics and vitamin C are an exception. I also keep bee propolis on hand for myself and older children when sick as a natural first defense.

Detox baths

A nice warm detox bath may help soothe sores and reduce discomfort while removing impurities from the body.

Reduce the Fever or Not?

I don’t usually recommend reducing a fever, since a fever is the body’s best defense against viral invaders.

Despite what some believe, a fever of less than 103 degrees will not cause brain damage and a fever from a virus will usually not go above this temperature, unless other factors are present (like high environmental temperatures). In fact, a fever is a good sign that the body is doing what it should!

If a fever is 103 to 104 degrees and I know it’s not the result of poisoning, severe bacterial infection, heat stroke, or toxins, I personally find it best to wait it out and monitor symptoms. However, with this and all medical decisions, it’s important to do your own research, talk with your doctor, and consult your intuition so you can feel confident in your decision to wait or not wait.

The Bottom Line on Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

HFM is a fairly mild illness (though uncomfortable and unpleasant) and will usually run its course in a week or two. In the meantime, support the immune system with healthy foods, supplements, and antiviral herbs to relieve symptoms and speed healing.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Has anyone in your family ever had HFMD? What helped?

Sources
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

26 responses to “Natural Remedies for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease”

  1. Ted Avatar

    Just one small comment, that if I read the abstract about astragalus correctly, it says it didn’t specifically affect the enterovirus causing hf&m epidemic in China (there are 3-4 different EV that can cause it) but that an extract made from Chinese rhubarb did.

  2. Jen Donchenko Avatar
    Jen Donchenko

    Do you know if 12 month olds can have very small doses of melatonin? I just found out that church nursery had a child infected with hand foot mouth. I want to make sure my 3 year old and 12 month old sleep really well this whole week to help prevent hfm infection since they were exposed

  3. Evelyn Avatar

    Only one of my children have gotten hfmd. She was about 10 months and I used homeopathic merc sol 30c. It took about 3 doses and 24 hours for all the blisters to clear out and her behavior immediately improved indicating she felt better. Her appetite was still down a couple days but she was still nursing so I wasn’t super worried about it we just nursed more.

  4. Michelle P. Avatar
    Michelle P.

    I used Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Coconut Oil when my girls had hand, foot, mouth disease and it worked like a charm!

  5. Jeannie Avatar

    My daughter (2.5 years old) and I got HFM and I’d like to offer some tips based on my own direct experience 🙂

    First, only use cool water to wash hands… even water that was a little warm was torture on my hands. Lukewarm (even slightly cool) baths felt best and my daughter and I both had great improvement in the sores after epsom salt baths.

    Ice pops were life savers! I made some and they helped to keep us both hydrated. Don’t offer anything warm to drink (it hurts!) and stay away from anything acidic – I popped a tomato in my mouth while making salads and it felt like I drank acid (it was horrible!). No OJ either… eating in general wasn’t terrible and soft, mushy foods actually helped. Chilling things like applesauce, bananas, yogurt (slightly frozen) was good.

    The pain at night was the worst… it was impossible to sleep. I’ve only taken sleeping pills three times in my life, and two of them were during HFM. The sores hurt, but they hurt the MOST at night when I was trying to sleep. My daughter didn’t sleep for two nights (we just stayed up)… if we had to do it again, I’d probably do the same thing… just suck it up for a couple of nights 🙁

    After my sores had mostly cleared up, I still had one on my hand that hung around. I decided to put a bandaid on it to cover it up and that proved to be a big mistake (for me)… after one day with a bandaid it got worse. It stuck around for another 10 days… long after everything else had healed.

    If you or your child as it, good luck to you!

  6. Mindy Avatar

    Our pediatrician suggested Benadryl and it worked great on my teenage son. He never got the rash, but his throat was covered in blisters. It probably didn’t help with healing the throat, but it made him tired so he slept through the pain. That and MILKSHAKES are what got us through it.

  7. Kathy Avatar

    Thank you for this! My son just got HFM yesterday! This is very helpful!

  8. LaVisha Holmes Avatar
    LaVisha Holmes

    My 10 month old had this and won’t stop screaming I’m absolutely delusional and I have no idea how to help her

  9. Linda Avatar

    HFM can also trigger type 1 diabetes if you have type 1 anywhere in your genetics! We lived that nightmare December 2016 when my daughter had HFM and it wasn’t getting better. I did everything I knew to do as a Holistic Practitioner and it still didn’t go. Took her to physician twice. Had to get her to ER. Rushed by ambulance to a hospital in Boston. Blood sugar was 606! Critical! Type 1 diabetes is autoimmune. Please tell your school nurses! I have many nurses as clients. They had no idea the coxsackie virus could trigger type 1 diabetes! That was shocking to me! If the virus doesn’t go away, get your child’s blood checked! It could save them from this outcome. The virus gets into the pancreas and shuts off the insulin. Life-changing! Although I’ll never give up helping to undo this, it’s terrible to see her have needles every day.

    1. Usman Avatar

      Do you have any study proving this? I’m also scared for our daughter who has HFM and we also had T1D in family… What are the chances she will get it??

  10. Jen Avatar

    Hhiii! When you choose to wait out a fever, how do you keep your child comfortable? Just rest and hydration??

    1. May Avatar

      I have used a lot of skin to skin contact with my baby when she’s had fevers. I’ve heard there’s scoe topic evidence to back that up but I haven’t read any material on it myself

  11. Miray Avatar

    My two kids and I had this HFM disease. My kids aged 2 and 5 were very comfortable, almost no blisters. But I had the worst illness experience during HFM disease. My hands and feet were covered with extremely itchy and burning blisters. I couldn’t wash the dishes, had to call my mom for help with everyday chores. I had to sleep by holding ice packs in my hands to relieve the burning sensation and get some sleep. It lasted for 10 days. I used oregano essential oil internally to get rid of this nasty virus. From my research on HFM disease, adults experience this much more painfully than kids.

  12. Angela Avatar
    Angela

    My girls both had HFM a few years ago, Purify essential oil blend from DoTerra made a HUGE difference!! I applied it neat every few hours and their spots never scabbed over! The girls were both back to normal in a few days, and I keep Purify on hand in case we ever get it again!

  13. Karen Avatar

    I second the above-I got it both times when my girls had it and one of them had it twice. Not fun. I remember just giving them the same supplements as when they had any other virus in an attempt to build their immune system up. Other than that just wait it out.

  14. Sara Avatar

    One of my children had HFM as a young child and lost his nails (which grew back normally) as mentioned in the article, but the remaining symptoms were mild to non-existent. However, two of my other children contracted this disease as teenagers. They were miserable! The sores and fever were horrible, and they both experienced severe burning hands and feet with blisters for 2 weeks! CRAZY!!! We tried everything, but nothing helped to soothe the continuous, intense, on-fire sensation. It just had to run its course.

    Based on our experience, I think that this may be one virus (like chicken pox) that is best experienced while you are young vs. older since the symptoms are worse when you are older.

  15. Tammy W Avatar
    Tammy W

    My son had HFM twice (when he was in daycare), and although it is rare for adults to contract this…I did (when my immune system was down after a cold and white I was early second tri pregnant).

    Any adult will tell you it is NOT milder. The spots on the hands and feet do not itch on kids. On adults? Nothing can take the deep, firey, seriously maddening itch away…for 6 days and nights.

    I tried dipping my hands in yogurt, essential oils, I held ice packs while I tried to sleep, prescription lidocaine – nothing. Came on with fever, sore throat and chills and it was the worth thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

    I read other adult testimonies – worse than chicken pox, shingles, any poison oak/ivy/etc. I wanted to die! The kids are most contagious while they have their fever so DO wash your hands like crazy, disinfect, do not share drinks, and (as much as I hate to say it), do not kiss them! Quarantine!!!!

  16. Christi Avatar
    Christi

    Katie,

    Do you know if you can only catch it once? Or is this a virus we can catch multiple strains of? Thanks!

    1. Rene Avatar

      There are 5 strains that I’m aware of and each has its own symptoms.

  17. Nechamah Avatar
    Nechamah

    I have heard that drinking fresh goats milk straight from the goat is amazing at getting rid of it. I know two people who had children who wouldn’t drink and they tried fresh goats milk and it worked

    1. JenP Avatar

      When you say “straight from the goat,” I picture the person suffering from HFMD has to nurse from the goat’s teat, LOL! I had to look a few times to determine you simply meant the goat milk should be fresh and raw.

  18. JenP Avatar

    Ugh. I had coxsackie virus when I was 35. Started with nausea and diarrhea. Those aren’t the most common symptoms, but since it is an enterovirus, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Then came the raging fever, THEN, oh joy, the incedibly painful mouth sores that lasted six weeks. Six weeks of nothing but bland, pureed food. Tried all the natural remedies but nothing did very much. Just have to wait while it runs its course.

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