A Parent’s Guide to the Most Common Childhood Rashes

5 min read  |  August 09, 2022  | 
Disponible en Español |

Skin conditions in children can manifest in several ways. 

One of the most common is localized or widespread rashes. Although childhood rashes can range from benign to serious and occasionally spontaneously recover, they can certainly be concerning and confusing for parents when their child develops any rash. 

Here are some of the most common rashes to look out for in your children. 

(NOTE: Always talk to your child’s doctor about any medical concern.)

Dermatitis refers to any skin irritation that causes inflammation. 

These rashes are typically red, itchy, dry, and can occur at any age. Three of the most common dermatitis rashes are diaper rash, eczema, and cradle cap. 

So, what do you look out for, and what can you do?

  1. Diaper rash occurs from a combination of the moist environment in a baby’s diaper and the friction of the diaper rubbing against the skin. These rashes appear red and dry and typically do not affect areas within the skin folds. To prevent diaper rash, change your baby’s diaper frequently. Apply a cream containing petroleum jelly or zinc to avoid further irritation.
  2. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a genetic condition that causes differences in a child’s skin barrier, making it more susceptible to infection. This rash can occur anywhere on your child’s body but is typically a red, dry, bumpy patch found on the face, elbows, wrists, knees, and ankles. Although a chronic condition, eczema rashes can be triggered by specific allergens such as soaps, foods, pollen, and fabrics. Prevention is mainly centered around identifying and avoiding these triggers, along with continual skin hydration through moisturizers and creams.
  3. Cradle Cap, also known as infant seborrheic dermatitis, is a yellow, scaly rash that occurs on a baby’s scalp within the first six weeks after birth. This skin condition is a result of excess oil production from the sebaceous glands (where your baby’s hair grows) in the skin and, in addition to the scalp, can appear as thick, red patches in skin creases around the body such as the armpit, groin, or behind the ears. Cradle cap is rarely painful, itchy, or bothersome and typically resolves on its own. Use a gentle baby shampoo regularly to assist in the resolution of the rash. 

Viral rashes are common childhood rashes that often appear along with systemic “cold-like symptoms” such as a runny nose, fever, or diarrhea. 

Viral rashes are the broadest category of childhood rashes due to the many viruses that can be contracted and elicit a rash. 

However, three of the most common viral rashes are measles, chicken pox, and roseola.

So, what do you look out for, and what can you do?

  1. Measles, also called rubeola, is caused by the measles virus, which is highly contagious. It manifests through the skin as a few small red lesions that combine to form a sizeable flat rash that starts on the face and spreads downwards to the trunk, arms, and legs. The best way to protect your child from measles is through the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. If you suspect your child has contracted measles, limit contact with other children and contact your pediatrician. 
  2. Chicken Pox is caused by the Varicella-Zoster virus and can spread through the air or direct contact. Chicken pox appears as a red itchy rash commonly found on the trunk, face, armpits, and inside the mouth. The rash eventually evolves into fluid-filled blisters, which later scab over within one to two weeks. Prevention of chickenpox is largely through the chickenpox vaccine. 
  3. Roseola, also known as the sixth disease, is a viral rash that occurs most commonly in children under the age of 3 due to human herpesvirus 6. Although the key symptom of roseola is a sudden onset, high-grade fever, a distinctly visible skin rash develops while the fever is decreasing. This spotty, pink rash consisting of flat or raised lesions begins on the trunk before spreading to the face, arms, and legs, where it does not itch and only exists for about 24 hours. Most crucial in caring for children with roseola is fever control, which can be accomplished through fluids or acetaminophen. 

Bacterial rashes occur at any age and may spread to deeper layers of the skin if not recognized and treated. 

Most bacterial rashes require clinical care, so parents must know what to look for and when to call the pediatrician. 

Two common bacterial rashes are impetigo and scarlet fever.

So, what do you look out for, and what can you do?

  1. Impetigo is a contagious infection of the skin surface that can happen at any age but is most common in children between ages 2 and 5. An impetigo rash appears as tiny, red bumps, blisters, or sores that are crusted over and commonly appear by a child’s mouth and nose. Treatment of this rash typically includes oral or topical antibiotics from your child’s pediatrician.
  2. Scarlet Fever is caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat, so a sore throat, fever, or headache commonly precedes a scarlet fever rash. This rash is different from impetigo in that it is made up of tiny red, textured bumps on the neck and upper chest of your child’s body. It is typically described as looking similar to a sunburn. However, it has a rough sandpaper-like texture. Treatment is achieved with the use of antibiotics.

Although rashes in children can have a variety of causes and symptoms, knowing what to look out for and how each rash can be different is a helpful tool for parents. 

To learn more about childhood rashes and management, please reach out to your child’s pediatrician.

Written by Sofia M. Perez, MS2, and Nicole Torres, M.D., assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the University of Miami Health System.

Tags: baby skin, bacterial skin infections, Dr. Nicole Torres, pediatric care in Miami, red rash, skin care in Miami, skin infectionns

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