Our Family's Personal Experience with HFMD (Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease): What Happened & What to Expect (like the little-known loss of nails—which isn't as bad as it sounds)
At the end of 2016, when my youngest son was 2½, he came down with a low fever and also developed chicken pox-like spots on his hands, feet, and face.
While I heard the mention of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) from the time I was young, I never encountered anyone who had it.
I never even met anyone who knew someone who'd had it.
But it wasn't difficult to assume that the little spots appearing only on his feet, hands, and face were likely HFMD.
After all, it makes sense, right?
Turning to this generation's modern medical advisor (the Internet), a quick search revealed that HFMD was indeed similar to chicken pox—a type of tiny pox that only appears on the eponymous parts (the hands, feet, and face).
And like chicken pox, HFMD lasts around 10 days and provides immunity against future exposure — although only to that particular strain of HFMD. (There are a handful of different strains.) Also like chicken pox, complications can result from HFMD—but rarely do.
Fortunately, like most cases of HFMD, our son's turned out to be a mild one. He might have had a low fever, but can't remember for sure (which means the fever wasn't serious if there was any).
Also, he didn't seem to have them inside his mouth, for which I was grateful, because that sounds really uncomfortable. (My older brother had chicken pox in the back of his throat. Ugh.)
With a bit of knowledge about essential oils and carrier oils, I applied olive oil infused with lavender oil on my son's affected areas (except for the face because that seemed too close to his mouth & eyes). I added tea tree oil to his feet too. (Two-year-olds frequently put their hands in their mouths and eyes, so the tea tree oil only went on his feet.)
The old spots cleared up pretty fast, but a round of new spots appeared each time.
However, it was reassuring to see that the oils helped clear up the current spots and he displayed no signs of discomfort or itching.
When it looked like he was no longer contagious, I took him to the doctor just to confirm the diagnosis and to ask when he could return to preschool.
Fortunately, the doctor was American, which meant it was easier for both of us to use the English terms for everything. I'm usually fine dealing with doctors & hospital staff in Hebrew, but saying HFMD in Hebrew felt too weird: machalat hapeh vahagapayim. Furthermore, the word "gapayim" is not commonly used. It means "limbs," but is far less common than the word generally used.
So I even though I'd double-checked it online, I didn't feel 100% sure it was the right term.
Anyway, to double-check, I asked the doctor if this was indeed HFMD, and after a thoughtful pause, he said, "It sure looks like it."
As the doctor examined my son's foot, I asked the doctor when my son could safely return to preschool.
The doctor appeared to examine the spots on my son's foot for a long time, but it looked like he was using the examination as a cover to scan his memory.
As stated before, HFMD is really not so common, even though it's common reference gives it a certain familiarity.
So I didn't blame the doctor for needing to think about it, though I'd have respected him more had he the guts to just admit he needs to look it up for a minute.
To help him along, I said, "Is it like chicken pox, where the spots need to dry up first, and then it's no longer contagious?"
There was another pause, then he said, "Yeah."
I didn't believe he actually remembered; it just made sense.
Then I mentioned that I applied olive oil to the affected areas. (Didn't bother mentioning the essential oils mixed in; most doctors aren't open-minded beyond pharmaceuticals and the mention of olive oil was as far as I wanted to go without knowing his position on non-synthetic remedies.)
Sure enough, the doctor smirked and said, "Nah, I don't think olive oil does much for this."
I didn't bother telling him that it did—or more likely, that the essential oils of lavender & tea tree mixed into the olive oil obviously helped.
If he couldn't hear about olive oil without smirking, I sure wasn't going to mention lavender or tea tree.
Anyway, in another couple of days, all the spots dried over and he went back to preschool.
I never knew how he caught it in the first place, but ever since he first entered the world, he was always catching colds & coughs and coming down with fevers.
We tried giving him herbal immunity boosters (including pricey high-quality ones), plus vitamins, but never saw much difference (except more recently, at age 5, with Sambucol, a medicinal syrup made from elderberries).
Anyway, the spots dried up and we thought that was the end of it.
But it wasn't.
HFMD produces a common, yet not well-known side effect.
The Fingernail Fiasco
One day, I noticed that his fingernails looked whitish and peeling.
Unable to think of anything except a vitamin deficiency or a fungal infection, I used Q-tips to "paint" his fingernails with anti-fungal tea tree oil & racked my brain to figure out what vitamins he lacked as I kept him from putting his fingers in his mouth until the oil dried. (Tea tree oil is toxic to ingest.)
The next couple of days showed a worsening situation.
The entire nail started to detach from the nail bed—on every single nail.
My stomach clenched with anxiety & self-recrimination. Was I a neglectful mother? Did my child receive such poor care that it caused his fingernails to fall off?
Nothing made sense because this child ate healthier than any of my other kids. Heck, he ate healthier than I did.
Every day, he ingested avocado spread on whole spelt bread. He feasted on salmon, tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell peppers, apples, bananas, tangerines, and much more.
Eggs & chicken & whole-grain noodles.
And the tea tree oil should have taken care of a fungal issue.
But despite the tea tree oil on the nails & a supplement of vitamin drops, the nails continued to detach.
Finally, by happy incident, I discovered a couple of websites that explained this exact process—a common yet little-known post-HFMD effect.
Yes, HFMD causes the fingernails to fall off—and the toenails too.
It doesn't always happen following HFMD, but it's pretty common.
Fortunately, it doesn't seem to hurt the children.
Even my son, who tends to be sensitive to all sorts of discomforts, didn't seem bothered by it.
An exposed nail bed looks grotesque, but my son showed no signs of discomfort or pain.
After most of his fingernails peeled off, his toenails started peeling off.
At one point, I clipped one fingernail that looked like it might painfully snag on something. Likewise, two partially detached toenails that caused discomfort when squeezed into a sock & a shoe.
Then all the nails grew back and that was that.
A Summary of What to Expect with HFMD
With the hope that neither you nor your child ever go through a bout of HFMD, here is a summary to help know what to expect if it does happen to you or someone you know:
Fevers are common, but not necessarily high fevers.
It starts with the fingernails, followed by the toenails. All in all, the nail-detaching process takes several weeks.
Okay, that sums up our experience with HFMD.
No one else in the family caught it, by the way.
We didn't even take all the precautions of washing & sterilizing things; my son didn't infect anyone else.
I hope neither you nor anyone you know comes down with HFMD.
But if it does happen, I hope the above helps.