Childhood Skin Rashes

Skin rashes come in all forms and sizes. Some are raised bumps, others are flat red blotches. Some are itchy blisters; others are pathes of rough skin. Most rashes are harmless and clear up on their own within a few days. A few may need medical attention. The skin is one of the first areas of the body to react when exposed to something you or your child is allergic to. The chart that follows lists information on some common skin rashes.

Common Skin Rashes

Condition or Illness Causes What rash looks like Skin area(s) Affected Other symptoms
Diaper RashDampness and the interactioon of urine and the skin.Small patches or rough skin, tiny pimples.Buttocks, thighs, gennitals.Soreness, no itching
Cradle CapHormones that pass through the placenta before birthScaly, crusty rash (in newborns)Starts behind the ears and spreads to the scalpFine, oily scales
Heat Rash (Prickly Heat)Blocked off sweat glandsSmall red pimples, pink blotchy skinChest, waist, back, armpitts, groinItching (may be a result of fever)
*RoseolaHerpes virus type-6Flat, rosy red rashChest and abdomenHigh fever 2-4 days before rash – child feels only midly ill during fever
*Fifth DiseaseHuman parvovirus B19Red rash of varying shades that fade to a flat, lacy pattern (rash comes and goes)Red rash on facial cheeks, lacy-like rash can also appear on arms and legsMild disease with no other symptoms or a slight runny nose and sore throat
EczemaAllergensDry, red, cracked skin, blisters that ooze and crust over, sufficent scratching leads to a thickened rough skinOn cheeks in infants, on neck, wrist, inside elbows, and backs of knees in older childrenModerate to intense itching (may only itch first, then rash appears hours to days later
*Chicken Pox**Varicella/herpes zoster virusFlat red spots that become rasied resembling small pimples. These develop into small blisters that break and crust overBack, chest and abdomen first, then rest of bodyFatigue and mild fever 24 hours before rash appears – intense itching
*Scarlet FeverBacterial infection (streptococcal)Rough, bright red rash (feels like sandpaper)Face, neck, elbows, armpits, groin (spreads rapidly to entire body)High fever, weakness before rash, sore throat, peeling of the skin afterward (especially palms)
*ImpetigoBacterial infection of the skinIn infants, pus-filled blisters, and red skin. In older children, golden crusts on red soresArms, legs, face and around the nose first, then most of bodySometimes fever – occasional itching
HivesAllergic reaction to food, insect bites, viral infection, drug or other substancesRasied red bumps with pale centers (resemble mosquito bites), shape, size and location of spots can change rapidlyAny areaItching- in extreme cases, swelling of throat, difficulty breathing (may need emergency care)
Posion Ivy, Oak, SumacInteraction of oily resins of plant leaves with skinRed, swollen skin rash and lines of tiny blistersExposed areasIntense itching and burning
Lyme DiseaseBacterial infection spread by deer tick bite(s)Red rash that looks like a bullseye: rasied edges surround the tick bites with pale centers in the middle. Rash starts to fade after a couple of daysExposed skin areas where ticks bite, often include scalp, neck, armpit and groinNo pain, no itching at time of bite. Fever-rash occurs in the week following the bite(s)

Questions to Ask

Does your child have a severe allergic reaction with any of these problems?
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blue color around the lips and mouth
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swelling of the face, tongue and mouth
Yes: Seek Care
Does your child have a purple, blotchy rash? And are their hands and feet cold?Yes: Seek Care
Does the child have any of these problems?
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • A red rash that feels like sandpaper
  • Pain in the arm and leg joints, along with a rash that looks like a target
Yes:See Doctor
Does your child have any of these?
  • Big blisters full of water
  • Pus
  • Swelling around the rash
Yes:See Doctor
Has your child been near someone with “strep” throat?Yes:See Doctor
If your child has diaper rash:
  • Do they have blisters or small red patches outside the diaper area? (The chest is one place to look.)
Yes:See Doctor
Was the child taking medicine when the rash started? Or was the child stung by a bug?Yes:Call Doctor
Are any of these things true?
  • Your child’s rash is getting worse.
  • Your child can’t sleep because of the rash.
  • You can’t make the rash better, even after using Self-Care
Yes:Call Doctor

Self-Care Tips

For Diaper Rash

  • Change diapers as soon as they are wet or dirty. Do this even at night if the rash is bad.
  • Wash your baby with lots of warm water. Don’t use throwaway wipes. Put a little zinc oxide ointment on the skin after it is dry.
  • Keep the skin dry, and give it air.
  • Keep your baby naked for 10 to 15 minutes before putting on a fresh diaper. Put the baby on a soft, fluffy towel while you wait.
  • Put diapers on loose, so air can get inside. If you use throw-away diapers, put some small holes in them. Don’t use throw-aways with tight leg bands.
  • Don’t use plastic pants until the rash is gone.
  • Wash cloth diapers in mild soap. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse water. It helps get all the soap out.

For Cradle Cap

  • Use dandruff shampoo on your baby. Shampoo your baby’s head once a day for 5 minutes. Use a soft brush or washcloth.
  • Put a little mineral oil on the baby’s head before shampooing. This can make the cradle cap softer. But be sure to wash out all the mineral oil.

For Heat Rash

Keep your child in a cool, dry place. The rash should go away in 2 to 3 days. Try these tips to make your child feel better:

  • Give the child a bath in cool water every 2 hours or so.
  • Let the air dry your child’s skin. (Don’t rub with a towel.)
  • Put calamine lotion on the very itchy spots. (Don’t use Caladryl.)
  • Put corn starch in the body creases.(Examples: inside the elbows, behind knees, inside tops of thighs)
  • Don’t use any greasy ointments or creams. They can block the skin’s pores.

For Hives

  • Give your child an antihistamine like Benadryl. Check the labels of cold medicines. Some cold medicines have diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine. These can help. But remember that antihistamines can make your child sleepy.
  • Cool your child down. Try one of these tips:
    • Rub an ice cube over the hives.
    • Put a cool, wet washcloth on the hives.
    • Give your child a bath in cool water.

  • Rub your child’s body with calamine lotion, witch hazel, or zinc oxide.
  • Find out what caused the hives. Keep your child away from it.

For Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Sumac

  • Take off your child’s clothes and shoes.
  • Wash your child with soap and water to clean off the plant oil.
  • Rub the skin with alcohol. Then rinse it with water.
  • Wash all the clothes and shoes your child was wearing.
  • Cut your child’s nails. Try to keep your child busy so they won’t scratch.
  • Soak the rash in cool water. Or give your child an oatmeal bath. You can use Aveeno or just put one cup of dry oatmeal in a tub of water.
  • Give your child a hot shower if they can stand it. The itching will get worse at first, but then it stops for hours. Do it again when the itching starts again.
  • Put calamine lotion on the rash every 3 or 4 hours.
  • Put a little hydrocortisone cream on the rash. Use a tiny bit and don’t rub. (You could spread the poison.) You have used too much if you can see the cream on the skin. You can do this every 3 or 4 hours. Don’t get the cream near your child’s eyes.
  • Teach your child to know poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac. (Poison ivy and poison oak both have 3 little leaves on each stem. Poison sumac has a row of 7 to 11 little leaves on each stem.) Tell your child to stay away from them.

To Protect Your Child from Lyme Disease

  • Have your child wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when they are in fields and woods. Have them tuck their pants into their socks. (Light-colored, tightly woven clothes are best.)
  • Check your child for ticks when he or she comes back from the woods. Take off any ticks you find on your child’s skin:
    • Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as you can.
    • Pull gently up from where the tick sticks into the skin.
    • Try not to crush the tick. Poison from the tick can spread the sickness.
    • Wash the bite and your hands with soap and water after.
    • Save the tick in a closed jar with alcohol. Show it to your child’s doctor if your child gets sick.

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021