What are rashes?
Rashes are abnormal changes in skin color or texture. Rashes can sometimes be a sign or symptom of an underlying medical condition. Most often, rashes in children are caused by contact with an irritating substance or with something that causes an allergic reaction called an allergen. Certain genes also make some kids more likely to get rashes than others.
Symptoms of skin rashes in children
A rash, also called dermatitis, is swelling or irritation of the skin. Rashes may be red, blotchy, inflamed, dry, scaly, and/or itchy. Rashes can also consist of lumps, bumpiness, blisters, or pimples. Some rashes develop right away. Others form over several days. Most rashes clear up after/within a few days, but some can be recurring.
Types and causes of skin rashes in children
Many things can cause skin rashes in children. Most are easy to treat and will heal quickly. Common types of skin rashes in kids include:
Hives are red, pink, or flesh-colored swollen bumps that may appear on your child's body when a chemical called histamine is released in response to an allergen. The trigger, or cause, could be a certain food, medicine, or bug bite. Hives can also be produced by pressure, cold, heat, etc.
Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is common in children. Eczema can cause bumpy, chapped, and dry skin, especially around the elbows and knees. More severe cases of eczema may cause red, scaly, and swollen skin all over your child's body.
Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with an irritating substance. This could be certain soaps or detergents, chemicals, solvents, or acidic materials. This rash may be itchy, red, and/or swollen.
Urushiol, the oil in poison ivy, oak, and sumac, can also cause this kind of rash.
Heat rash occurs when perspiration (sweat) can't escape because the sweat gland pores are blocked. It's very common in young children. Heat rash can appear anywhere. It causes patches of small pink or red bumps or blisters, and it typically occurs under clothing or spots in skin creases and folds.
Swimmer's itch, or cercarial dermatitis, is common in kids that spend time in lakes or oceans. This rash is caused by tiny parasites found in shallow, warm water, typically along the shore. The parasites burrow into the skin and cause tiny reddish, raised spots. Welts and blisters may also appear.
Folliculitis, sometimes called hot tub rash, is an itchy, pimply rash that occurs when bacteria in dirty pools or hot tubs get into the hair follicles. The affected skin becomes infected and inflamed, sometimes forming small blisters. A similar rash can occur if your child spends a lot of time in a wet bathing suit.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection that can cause pearly bumps on your child's arms, back, chest, or legs. These dome-shaped bumps are also known as "water warts." Sometimes there are dimples in the center of the bumps.
Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease (HFMD) is very common in young children. It can easily spread in places like daycare centers, preschools, summer camps, and schools. Caused by the virus enterovirus coxsackie, HFMD usually starts with cold-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and runny nose. Soon after, a rash with tiny blisters may appear on any or all the following areas of your child's body:
- Fingers or palms of the hands
- Soles of the feet
When to see the doctor for skin rashes in children
If your child has a rash that does not begin to heal within a few days, you should call the doctor. You might see your child’s pediatrician or a dermatologist, who specializes in treating the skin. Knowing which kind of rash your child has can help the doctor choose the best treatment for it.
Contact your pediatrician immediately if your child has any of the following rashes:
- A butterfly-shaped rash across their nose and cheeks
- A peeling rash on the palms or the soles of the feet
- A rash on their genitals
- A rash on/around their eyes
- A rash that doesn’t get better after a few days or with over-the-counter treatment
- A rash that looks like a bull’s eye (often occurs with Lyme disease after a tick bite)
- A rash that’s extremely red, swollen, blistering, oozing, or crusty
- A rash that’s worse in skin folds and creases
- A rash where the skin is sloughing like snakeskin
- A widespread rash and swollen, tender lymph nodes
- Hives and/or swelling in the mouth or face
You should also call a doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms in addition to a rash:
Treatments for skin rashes in children
Topical treatments for rashes in children include moisturizers and hydrocortisone creams that can help relieve itching and swelling. Oral treatments may include antihistamines, which can help relieve itching and inflammation. Most of these are available over-the-counter. Some rashes, as discussed above, may need a diagnosis by your child's pediatrician or dermatologist to determine the appropriate course of treatment.
If your child has eczema, their doctor may prescribe a moisturizer called an emollient that soothes itching and helps skin to retain moisture.
If your child has a rash caused by an allergen, their doctor might recommend a medical test to determine which allergens are causing the rash. The best way to prevent rashes caused by allergens is to avoid the allergen.
Try to keep your child from scratching their skin rash. If they do, the rash may take longer to heal. They'll also be more likely to develop an infection and/or scarring.
Skin Problems and Treatments Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Pediatrics: "12 Common Summertime Skin Rashes in Children."
Intermountain Healthcare: "Does My Child Need Treatment for Their Rash?"
U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Rashes."