Healthy skin is a barrier between the inside of the body and the
outside environment. A rash means some change has affected the skin. A rash is
generally a minor problem or is part of an illness that will go away on its
own. A rash may be caused by contact with a substance outside the body, such as
poison ivy (contact dermatitis), or by other more serious
illnesses, such as
scarlet fever (strep throat with rash).
Generalized rashes over the whole body that are caused
by viruses are more common in babies and young children than in adults. A rash
may be caused by a viral illness if the child also has a cold, a cough, or
diarrhea, or is in a day care setting where he or she is with other children
with viral illnesses. Most rashes caused by viruses are not serious and usually
go away over a few days to a week. Home treatment is often all that is needed
to treat these rashes.
After a child has had a rash caused by a
virus, his or her body generally builds an immunity to that virus. This
immunity protects the child from getting that specific viral illness and rash
again. Common rashes caused by viruses include:
Chickenpox (varicella). This rash is a
common, contagious illness caused by a type of herpes virus.
Fifth disease. This facial rash looks like the cheeks
have been slapped. It also causes a lacy, pink rash on the arms and legs,
torso, and buttocks.
Roseola (roseola infantum). This rash
occurs about 3 days after a high fever.
Unknown virus. Sometimes
the specific virus that causes a rash is never known.
Localized rashes which affect one area of the body
have many different causes and may go away with home treatment. Common
localized rashes that occur during childhood include:
Diaper rash. This rash is caused by
rubbing, moisture, chemicals, or bacteria in the baby's urine or stool;
substances in disposable diapers; or soaps used to wash cloth
Impetigo. This bacterial skin infection is caused by
strep or staph
Heat rash (prickly heat). This rash often results from
a well-meaning parent dressing his or her baby too warmly, but it can happen to
any baby in very hot weather.
These are sometimes called fever blisters. Cold sores are clusters of small
blisters on the lip and outer edge of the mouth caused by the herpes simplex
Contact dermatitis. This rash is caused by contact
with a substance, such as food, soap, or lotion, that causes an
allergic reaction. Most contact dermatitis is mild and
goes away when your child's skin no longer comes in contact with the
Cradle cap. Cradle
cap is an oily, yellow scaling or crusting on a baby's scalp. It is common in
babies and is easily treated.
Cradle cap is not a part of any illness and does not mean that a baby is not
being well cared for.
Rashes that may require a visit to a doctor include:
Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria carried by deer ticks in some areas. A characteristic
expanding red rash usually occurs at the site of the tick bite and is followed
by flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, chills, fever, body aches, and
A rash that looks
like a sunburn and a fever of
102°F (38.9°C) or higher. This type of rash may be
caused by a rare condition called
toxic shock syndrome.
A very rare and serious type of generalized red rash called toxic
epidermal necrolysis (TEN). This type of rash may cause the skin to peel away, leaving large
areas of tissue that weep or ooze fluid like a severe burn. TEN may occur after the use of some
To know how serious the rash
is, other symptoms that occur with the rash must be evaluated. Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a
Check Your Symptoms
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Most rashes will go away without
medical treatment. Home treatment can often relieve pain and itching until the
rash goes away.
If your child has come in contact with a substance
that may cause
contact dermatitis, such as
poison ivy, immediately wash the area with large
amounts of water.
Once a rash has developed, leave it alone as much
Use soap and water sparingly.
the rash exposed to the air whenever possible.
Encourage your child
not to scratch the rash.
If your child has a rash, he or she should not be in contact
with other children or pregnant women. Most viral rashes are contagious,
especially if a fever is present.
Relief from itching
Itching with a rash is generally
not serious, but it can be annoying and may make a rash more likely to become
infected. Rashes caused by
eczema, or contact dermatitis are much more likely to
itch. Sometimes itching can get worse by scratching.
may help the itching.
Keep your child's fingernails clean and short,
and encourage him or her not to scratch. Cover your baby's hands with socks to
help keep him or her from scratching.
Keep your child out of the
sun and in a cool place. Heat makes itching worse.
Keep the itchy
area cool and wet if your child is older than age 9 months. Put cloths soaked
in ice water on the rash a few times a day. Too much wetting and drying will
dry the skin, which can increase itching. Do not put
cloths soaked in ice water on the skin of a baby younger than 9 months. It may
cause the baby's body temperature to go down.
Try an oatmeal bath
to help relieve itching. Wrap 1 cup of oatmeal
in a cotton cloth or sock, and boil it as you would to cook it. Allow it to cool
to room temperature, and then use it as a sponge while bathing your child in
cool water without soap. You can also buy a product at the store, such as
Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal bath.
Dress your child
in cotton clothing. Do not use wool and synthetic fabrics next to the
Use gentle soaps, such as Basis, Cetaphil, Dove, or Oil of
Olay, and use as little soap as possible. Do not use deodorant soaps on your
Wash your child's clothes with a mild soap, such as
CheerFree or Ecover, rather than a detergent. Rinse twice to remove all traces
of the soap. Do not use strong detergents.
and follow all label directions on the medicine bottle or box.
Try calamine lotion for a rash caused by
contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy or poison oak
For severe itching, apply
hydrocortisone cream 4 times a day until the itch is gone.
Note: Do not use the cream on children younger than age
2 unless your doctor tells you to do so. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal
area on children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to do so.
Try an oral
antihistamine to help the scratch-itch cycle. Examples
include chlorpheniramine maleate, such as Chlor-Trimeton, and diphenhydramine,
such as Benadryl. Oral antihistamines are helpful when itching and discomfort
are preventing your child from doing normal activities, such as going to school
or getting to sleep. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've
checked with the doctor first.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your child's fever or pain:
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all labels on
the medicine bottle and box.
Give, but do not exceed, the maximum
Do not give your child a medicine if he or she
has had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
Other symptoms, such as a fever, feeling ill, or
signs of infection, are severe or become worse.
A new rash lasts
longer than 2 weeks.
symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
Several childhood diseases that cause a
rash can be prevented through immunization. Immunizations help your child's
immune system recognize and quickly attack a virus
before it can cause a serious illness. Immunizations for chickenpox and for
measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) can prevent these common rash-causing
Other tips for preventing
rashes include the following:
Dress your baby in as few clothes as possible
during hot weather.
Breast-feed your child for at least the first 6
months, especially if either parent has a history of any allergy, including hay
fever. Breast-fed children may develop fewer food allergies than those who are
Do not bathe your child too often to prevent dry
skin. Most children do not need daily bathing. Children with very dry skin may
do better if they bathe once or twice a week.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.