A rash is a patch of red, inflamed skin that may be itchy, painful or swollen. Rashes are common in kids and can be the result of many things, including allergies, infections or irritants. Most rashes are easily treated and clear up quickly. If your child's rash lingers or doesn't respond to medications, call your doctor.
Types of childhood rashes
- Contact dermatitis: Dermatitis means "inflammation." Contact dermatitis is a rash that causes itching, redness and, occasionally, small bumps. It happens when your child comes in contact with irritants such as chemicals or dyes or an allergen, like poison ivy. Contact dermatitis usually goes away by itself after a week or so.
- Diaper rash: Bright red skin on your baby's bottom is most likely diaper rash. It's the result of prolonged contact with urine or feces. Diaper rash is easily treated by using creams or ointments when you change your baby. Consult your pediatrician if the rash doesn't get better or if it starts to blister.
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis): Eczema causes scaly, itchy rashes. It usually appears in infants between the ages 6 and 12 weeks. As many 15 to 20% of children have atopic dermatitis. The condition is most common in kids with asthma and allergies. Treatment usually requires topical corticosteroids during flare-ups.
- Impetigo: This common childhood rash is an infection caused by strep or staph bacteria in the top layers of the skin. It can be the result of insect or animal bites. It shows up as red sores that eventually turn into blisters, which ooze, then crust over. Impetigo goes away slowly by keeping the skin clean and using an antibiotic cream.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: This type of rash appears as patches of redness and scaling around the face; including the eyelids, nose and mouth and behind the ears. If it appears on an infant's scalp, it's called cradle cap. In older kids, it's dandruff. It usually appears where skin is oily and greasy. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition that will come and go. Flare-ups are easily treated with creams, shampoos or other medications.
When to contact a health care provider
Most rashes aren't serious but you should see a doctor if your child has any of the following additional symptoms:
- Fever, sore throat or joint pain occurs
- Streaks of redness or swelling (signs of an infection) appear
- If the rash appears after taking a new medication
- If the rash appears following a tick bite
- When treatment at home is ineffective or symptoms get worse
Seek emergency treatment if your child has shortness of breath, a swollen face or throat or a purple rash that looks like a bruise.
Your pediatrician will begin a diagnosis by asking you if your child has any allergies, started using a new soap or has been in any wooded areas. She'll also want to know if your child is taking any medications or has other medical conditions. The doctor will perform a physical exam and tests that may include allergy testing, blood tests or a skin biopsy.
Depending on the cause of your child's rash, treatments may include medicated lotions or ointments, oral medicines or, rarely, skin surgery.
At Children's Health, we frequently treat kids with rashes. Rashes are rarely serious and usually go away with minor treatment or by avoiding irritants. We'll quickly diagnose and treat your child's rash so he can stop itching and get back to being a kid.
The Dermatology clinic at Children’s Health provides in-depth diagnostic and treatment services for children with skin diseases and disorders. Learn more about our program and services.
Stay current on the health insight that makes a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children’s Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.