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Common Childhood Rashes


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It’s upsetting when your soft-skinned baby or toddler is suddenly covered with an angry red rash. The first time it happens, you’ll likely call your child’s pediatrician in a bit of a panic, but you’ll soon discover that rashes are quite common in early childhood, and they rarely require an urgent trip to the doctor or emergency room. In fact, some rashes may come and go before the doctor’s office returns your call (and you may never know what caused them). Others may be associated with a virus that simply has to run its course. Still others may be the result of an allergic reaction.

If a rash persists for several days or weeks or worsens, contact your child’s health care provider. In general, seek immediate medical attention if your child has fever, breathing difficulties, or persistent vomiting in addition to the rash. And be aware that rashes known as petechiae and purpura (read on for more details) require immediate medical attention.

The types of rashes your child may experience include:

Contact dermatitis occurs when your child comes in contact with an irritating substance or allergen and develops red, bumpy, scaly, itchy or swollen skin. Irritants may include soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, or plants such as poison ivy or poison oak. It’s important to try to identify what your child came in contact with so that he can avoid doing so in the future. The rash isn’t contagious or life-threatening and will likely go away in 2–4 weeks, as long as your child stays away from the culprit that caused it. In the meantime, your child’s pediatrician may recommend an antihistamine and a cool compress to relieve the itching.

Eczema, known also as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition that often appears in children who have a family history of allergies or eczema. It is characterized by red, dry, peeling skin and small, fluid-filled bumps that ooze a clear liquid. Eczema often begins with itchy, red bumps on the forehead, scalp or cheeks that spread to the arms or trunk between 2–6 months of age. Later in childhood, eczema is scalier and appears on the elbows, knees, wrists, and ankles. Though there isn’t a cure, about 60 percent of babies outgrow eczema. Pediatricians often treat the skin condition with non-steroidal or steroid creams and sometimes suggest an antihistamine to relieve itching. Parents are also advised to avoid giving children with eczema long, hot baths and to moisturize skin daily with an unscented cream.

A heat rash looks like small red and pink pimples. These pimples can appear anywhere but often cover a baby’s head, neck, and shoulders. Heat rash is common in hot, humid weather and often occurs when an infant is wearing too many layers of clothing. If you see this type of rash on your child, move him to a cooler environment. To prevent heat rash, make sure your child is wearing lightweight, loose-fitting clothing in warm weather and easily removable layers in cooler weather. The rash will usually go away by itself.

Also known as urticaria, hives are raised pink or white bumps on the surface of the skin. They often appear on the back, chest, and stomach, but can also be seen on the extremities and the face. The hives can be single or in clusters, and often come and go within a 10–15 minute period. While hives, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), can result from non-allergic causes such as heat or exercise, they often occur as an allergic reaction to medications, food, or insect bites. When you or your child has an allergic reaction to a substance, your body releases histamine into your bloodstream that leads to swelling of the skin. Fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, and nuts are among the foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. Hives usually itch, but they are not contagious. The most common treatment for hives is an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl, but parents should contact their child’s health care provider for dosing instructions. Parents should seek urgent medical care for their child if hives are accompanied by difficulty swallowing or breathing or vomiting.

Impetigo (a contagious, bacterial infection) causes sores that most often occur around a child’s mouth and nose. The sores can erupt on healthy skin, but impetigo usually occurs when bacteria enter the skin through cuts or insect bites. Either way, the rash will likely clear up on its own in 2–3 weeks. Though impetigo is rarely serious, your child’s pediatrician may still prescribe an antibiotic to prevent possible complications.

Marked by flat, round spots that look like pinpoints, petechiae appears when there is bleeding under the skin. These spots can be red, brown, or purple, and are usually flat to the touch. The spots don’t lose color when you press on them. Similarly, purpura, which also indicates that there may be ruptured blood vessels under the skin, are larger areas that may initially be red and then turn purple or brownish-yellow. Because this type of rash may signal a serious underlying condition, it is important to get your child to a doctor right away if she shows signs of petechiae or purpura.

Some rashes are associated with viral illnesses. Though they are often accompanied by fever or cold symptoms, there’s usually no cause for concern. Chicken Pox, Fifth Disease, Roseola, and Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease are the most common rash-causing viruses. Fifth Disease, also known as “slapped cheek disease,” causes a rash that begins on the cheeks, making it appear as if your child has been slapped. It then spreads as pimply bumps to your child’s stomach and extremities. The rash may also be accompanied by a fever, runny nose, and cough. Other viruses that yield rashes include Roseola, which begins with a few days of high fever; once the fever subsides, a splotchy, raised, pink rash appears. It starts on the chest, back, and stomach and spreads to the neck and arms. Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease (or Coxsackie) is a virus that begins with a few days of fever and then causes blister-like sores in the mouth and/or a skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. With the exception of Chicken Pox, viral rashes generally are not contagious once a child has been fever-free for 24 hours, and most will clear up on their own with little to no treatment.

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  • Heidi Green

    Thanks for this great overview! We’ve certainly dealt with our share of rashes here, and I’m sure this will be a valuable resource for many parents. Just wanted to add that “fifth disease” is also known as “human parvovirus b19.” In addition to the slapped cheeks and pimply appearance, the rash often looks lace-like in appearance as it resolves. While in children it’s typically a mild illness with no need for follow-up, pregnant women who are exposed should discuss it with their health care provider since they may need additional testing and care. A bit more detail on that particular virus is available here on baby gooroo.

    • Mindi

      My son developed a rash yesterday evening. No new foods. Itchy. No fever, rash mostly on his abdomen and front of his thighs. A few bumps on other parts of his body but nothing like the abdomen and thighs. Mostly happy and playing. Poop has gotten softer throughout the day but no diarrhea. Appetite has also decreased throughout the day. Any thoughts?

      • baby gooroo

        While a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing the rash first hand is essential, so please contact your child’s health care provider. Given that the rash covers a large part of your son’s body, it could be something he came into contact with, but it could also be viral. The fact that his appetite has decreased also suggests that a trip to the doctor is needed.

      • kall

        Hi Mindi, did you ever figure out what this rash was? my son has this almost exact same thing and we cant figure out what it is. please help!

        • Amy

          This picture reminds me of when my son had Hand foot and mouth disease and it spread all over.

  • Neill Longstaff

    my son is 6 he has and is feeling fine with no temp buts has a red angry rash on his cheeks tops of his arms back and tummy, what could this be please

    • Meredith Allison @RockTique

      Hi Neill. Did you ever find out what the rash was? I took my son to the Dr yesterday with what sounds like the same rash. The Dr thought it was likely allergies but by the time the day was over, I was not so convinced. It has now spread up his cheeks towards his ears, has come and gone on his arms and back as well. He says he doesn’t feel anything. He does have an ear infection but I don’t think that’s related (no fever)

  • baby gooroo

    Without seeing the rash it’s difficult to tell what the cause might be. It may be a reaction to something that your son has come into contact with or it may be the prelude to an illness. I would recommend that you reach out to your son’s doctor if the rash persists or if more symptoms appear.

  • Erica m

    My son had wat sounds like a heat rash but it’s on the outline of his lips n hurts when he drinks water wat can it be should I take him in……this started today by the east

    • baby gooroo

      If the rash doesn’t resolve in 24 hours and is severe enough that it keeps your son from drinking liquids, it is best to take him to his health care provider (doctor, nurse) for a check-up.

  • Elvia Cmgs

    Hi my son started a rash sat night. He didnt eat anything different. Its only on his back and some on his chest its small and it feel almost like dry skin but im sure thats bot the case. The rash seems more noticeable when he takes baths makibg ot red. He just started today w some cold symptoms but he seems ok. Could it be heat rash or allergic reaction? Thanks

    • baby gooroo

      Elvia, without seeing the rash it’s hard to tell what the cause might be. If it persists or worsens, or if your son develops other symptoms in addition to the rash, contact his health care provider.

    • Cassie

      My daughter has the exact same thing you mentioned, what was your sons diagnosis??

  • Briana

    my daughter has a rash on her head and her back showed up yester the bumps are not raised I know its not heat rash because it has not gone away I have no idea what it is but it is scaring me

    • baby gooroo

      It’s hard to tell what the cause of a rash might
      be without seeing the rash first hand. Certainly if it persists or worsens, or if your daughter develops other symptoms in
      addition to the rash, you should contact her health care provider.

  • Bre Roberts

    My son had little bumps on his legs and arms. I thought they were chigger bites but then that same day I noticed them when we went swimming. After he got out of the pool it almost looked like heat rash on arms back and chest. All the bumps were bright red. But the next day (today) he just has them mainly on on arm and now his hands, which just started tonight. But he has absolutely no other symptoms no fever nothing not even last week. They just came out of nowhere. A few friends said it might be hand, foot and mouth disease but he doesn’t have them on feet, in mouth, or around mouth, mainly upper body.

    • dawnpalmerley

      Weird…my 11 yr old son went swimming yesterday and came home with a cluster of bumps on his upper arm.

  • Krystal

    my son wasn’t feeling good. it first started with sleeping most the day, then a headache, then body aches, next day he had a fever with these thigs I said, than the next day everything was find BUT bumps starts showing up on fingers up the arm to the shoulder and back next day rash is on the face in small sections. what the heck is going on???/?
    its not itchy it just there

    • baby gooroo

      If the rash doesn’t resolve or appears to be spreading I would contact your child’s health care provider. Without seeing it, it’s hard to determine the cause.The fact that the rash was preceded by fever and body aches would suggest that they are linked.

  • Toni

    I went to visit my grandson last night and noticed dry rashes on his chest and stomach, it scared me. Plus the crease on his neck was so red. I asked his parents why he has this rash and they said they applied some topical product on his stomach known to help with gas from asia one day, but im not sure if it is from this product. I gave him a bath and used an organic liquid soap with eucalyptus which normally soothes him to sleep. Im just so concerned. Its not bumpy but his body feels so dry so I applied Aveeno Baby Lotion. What could it be?

    • baby gooroo

      Rashes are so common, it’s often difficult to know the cause. While viral infections are often accompanied by a rash, any cream, lotion, or ointment can also result in a rash, particularly in sensitive children. Mild soaps can also irritate the skin and cause a rash. Most rashes will yo away on their own. If, however, the rash worsens or spreads or your grandson develops other symptoms such as fever or diarrhea, I would encourage his parents to contact his health care provider.

  • Totsy Good

    My 17 year old son has brown spotches just on the belly.. They don’t itchier both him but I have never seen it before.. What could it be??

  • Earl Varnado

    My grandson has some rash like bumps on his arms that appear to have spread to his stomach and just under his chest. Any help with what it might be?

  • cindy

    My four year old daughter has a small cluster of bumps growing on the right side of her neck. I noticed it about 2 years ago and didn’t think anything of it. Then i slowly started to see the area become raised and would have dark scab-like tops. She has no pain. We tried tea tree oil but it didn’t seem to work. In fact, what I noticed using the tea tree oil was that the dark “scab-like” parts of the bumps would come off and then another set would grow again. The bumps are increasing and seems to be spreading towards the back of her neck. What can i do? Maybe it’s something viral? She did start pre-school 2 years ago. She also does not touch the area.

    I did take her to see a dermatologist but i don’t think she knows what this is. She said it’s superficial so it’s nothing to worry about. But with it spreading and increasing in numbers, not sure if it’s really nothing to worry about.

    The photos attached is from 2 years ago to today.

    I would appreciate any help.
    thank you

    • baby gooroo

      Rashes are among the most frustrating conditions. The vast majority come and go and the actual cause is never found. However, if you feel that your daughter’s rash is spreading, you might want to contact her pediatrician or see if there is an alternate dermatologist who the pediatrician can recommend.

    • Lindsay

      I developed this at 2 years of age on the right side of my neck. I am now 29. I’ll share my story with you and others as to avoid causing your own children the same torment I endured. My dermatologist diagnosed it as benign Nevus Sebaceous. It was scraped off, grew back, it was frozen off, grew back. I live in Florida and we spent a lot of time in the sun and this condition is more susceptible to malignancy., so it was advised that a plastic surgeon cut it out from the root. In 5th grade I underwent the procedure. The scar I was left with is double the size and bright pink and red. The skin on the neck is very delicate and I am fair skinned. Once I developed, around the age 14, I started enduring comments…mostly from adults, inquiring on the hickey on my neck. Even to this day old men ask me why I let men suck on my neck. Scar creams don’t work. And recently, I’ve noticed the bumps growing back around the scar tissue. It is my suspicion that the bumps are still there and have been there for some time, only clustered under the scar tissue and far less accessible for identifying malignancy. The only solution from physicians is to reopen the scar. So if advised to remove through surgery, unless malignancy is positively determined, don’t do it. Either way there will still be a defect and from a medical standpoint, it is better to have visibility of the problem then be left wondering what is going on under all that scar tissue.