10 Common Childhood Rashes and What You Should Know About Them
Dr. Eric Viegas, ND
There are many different types of rashes that children and their parents will encounter throughout their lives.
The following is a list of common rashes, their causes and symptoms, a description of their appearance, and what you can do about them.
- Contact Dermatitis
Many causes including certain foods, body products, latex, jewelry and poison ivy.
Most incidents of contact dermatitis are mild, start around 48 hours after skin exposure, and resolve when the specific substance is prevented from contacting the skin. A mild reaction will usually result in small red bumps, while a more serious reaction can result in swelling and blisters.
A red, but not itchy, viral rash that is located over most of the child’s body. Children will usually complain of common cold symptoms: fever, sneezing, irritated throat, coughing, swollen glands, red eyes, and loss of appetite. Although preventable with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, those who choose to forego immunization are at a higher risk of infection. If you believe your child has been infected with measles, please seek medical care immediately.
- Scarlet Fever
Most common in children ages 2-10 (but infection can occur at any age). A scarlet fever rash is coarse to the touch, and red. It typically presents on the torso first, then spreads to other areas of the body over the course of a couple of days.
Children will typically present with a high fever followed by the rash 24 hours later.
Other symptoms include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and white or yellow spots at the back of the throat; all related to a strep throat infection. If you suspect that your child has scarlet fever, seek medical attention immediately.
Caused by the varicella zoster virus, this is a contagious and very itchy rash that affects the whole body. It may appear as red spots and/or blisters (pox). Each chickenpox red spot has a life cycle of 1-2 days; blistering, bursting, drying out, and crusting. New spots will appear daily for up to one week. This infection will stay dormant in nerves, and may result in an outbreak of shingles later in life.
An easy way to combat the itchiness of chickenpox is an oatmeal bath:
- Using a mesh bag or cheesecloth, add 1 cup of uncooked oats and tie off one end.
- Secure the oatmeal bag under your tub’s faucet and run under warm water, periodically squeezing the bag as the tub fills.
- Once the bath is full, you can remove the bag from the faucet, letting it float in the bathwater. Continue to periodically squeeze the bag into the water.
- Submerge affected areas in the bath for 20 mins.
- You can also add calendula and lavender flowers to help soothe irritated skin.
Appears around 3 days after a high fever caused by the roseola virus. This infection is usually mild, starting with a sudden high fever for 2-3 days and developing into a pink rash appearing on the torso, neck and arms once the fever begins to drop. Some children may experience seizures due to the sudden intensity of the fever, and the rash will last 1-2 days. This rash typically affects children aged 6 months to 2 years. Seek medical care if you suspect your child has roseola.
- Fifth Disease
A “slapped cheek” facial rash that also has a lacy appearance on the torso, arms, legs, and buttocks.
This rash will follow sudden flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, aches, etc.), and children are most contagious 7 days before the onset of the rash.
Once the rash has appeared, children are no longer contagious. Hot temperatures and sunlight exposure may cause the rash to wax and wane over several weeks.
While the infection is mild for children, developing fetuses are at an increased risk when exposed to fifth disease. If you are pregnant and develop some of the signs and symptoms of fifth disease, seek medical attention immediately.
- Heat Rash
Can happen to any baby exposed to hot weather or dressed too warmly. The rash looks like red or pink dots on the child’s head, neck, and/or shoulders.
Make sure your child is dressed lightly on hot days, covering their head and limbs, and do your best to avoid prolonged sun exposure.
- Cradle Cap
Oily, yellow, scaly and/or crusting rash on a baby’s scalp. This rash is common and treatable, and its presence certainly does not mean parents are not caring for their baby.
Home treatment for cradle cap:
- An hour before shampooing, rub your baby’s scalp with baby oil, or vaseline to help lift and loosen the crusts/ scales.
- Wet your baby’s scalp then gently scrub the scalp with a soft-bristle brush (eg. a soft toothbrush or a fine-toothed comb) for a few minutes to remove the scales.
- Wash the scalp with baby shampoo, rinse well, and gently towel dry.
- Lyme Disease
Can be caused by bacteria that are carried by ticks. A Bullseye red rash at the site of the bite will expand, followed by flu-like symptoms, joint pain, and neurological problems.
In the case of lyme disease, see a doctor immediately.
- Diaper Rash
Can be caused by urine/stool bacteria, moisture, heat, friction, or chemicals in a baby’s diaper. The rash has a red (may also appear burned/scalded) appearance, and affects the thighs, buttocks, genitals, or abdomen.
Sometimes, a yeast infection may be responsible for the rash, so always check with your doctor before using any medicated ointments for your child.
As with any skin issue, it is best to see your doctor when a rash presents so that you can get an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment. Some rashes require immediate antibiotics, while others tend to resolve on their own. I hope this quick guide to rashes will help ease the stress around skin issues for you and your children.