common skin rashes in children

Common Skin Rashes in Children: What Causes Them and What to Do?

Skin rashes in children are a common reason pediatric dermatologists are sought out by concerned parents. While some rashes are serious and others go away on their own, it’s important to seek an expert’s opinion if your child is in pain or you are worried. To make sure you’re knowledgeable prior to your child’s appointment, we’ve curated a list of common skin rashes in children, what causes them, and how to treat them.

Skin Rashes in Children

Just like adults, skin rashes in children are quite common. Different types of rashes in children can be grouped into one of four categories: dermatitis, bacterial infections, viral infections, and fungal infections. 

  • Dermatitis 

Dermatitis is used to describe any skin condition, in children or adults, that causes skin inflammation. There are many types of dermatitis that affect children that you may already be aware of, they just go by another name. These include diaper rash, cradle cap, eczema, or atopic dermatitis. 

Diaper rash, not surprisingly, is the most common type of skin rash in children. It appears as a red rash in the diaper area of infants and toddlers. Cradle cap is characterized by yellow, scaly patches on your child’s scalp. These patches are often surrounded by red, irritated skin. Eczema rashes in children often appear as red skin that is irritated, itchy, and dry. Contact dermatitis, also known as an allergic reaction, has similar symptoms as eczema.

  • Bacterial Infections 

There are two types of bacterial infections that are common in children: scarlet fever and impetigo. Although symptoms of Scarlet fever include a headache, fever, and sore throat, the main symptom is a raised, red rash that most commonly affects your child’s chest and neck but can spread to other areas of the body. 

Impetigo most commonly affects children ages two to five, but can occur in children of any age. Symptoms of impetigo often include the area around the nose and mouth, or anywhere that is easily irritated, forming crusty spots, blisters, or red bumps.

  • Viral Infections 

A number of viruses can cause skin rashes in children, but the most common are: fifth disease, chickenpox, roseola, rubella, measles, molluscum contagiosum, and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Fifth disease starts out as a red rash on your child’s cheek, leading to fifth disease often being called slapped cheek disease. Fever and other symptoms may accompany the rash. The rash typically disappears within a few days, but is then followed by a light pink rash that forms in a pattern that looks like lace across the chest and arms.

Although we all know about the fluid-filled blisters that commonly characterize chickenpox, these blisters start out as an itchy, red rash. The rash starts out on your child’s face, back, and chest, but then travels to other areas of the body. 

Roseola will start out as a high fever that can last up to a week. The fever is then followed by a spotty pink rash that is slightly raised and covers the chest or stomach. The rash can spread to your child’s upper arms and neck before fading within twenty-four hours. 

Rubella, also known as German measles, starts on your child’s face and neck as a red or pink rash. The rash can continue to spread to other areas of the body and lasts approximately three days, unless complications occur. A fever, runny nose, or cough may precede skin rashes in children caused by rubella. 

A rash caused by the measles often starts forming around the ears and mouth before spreading to other areas of the body. The rash begins as red, flat spots, but can later form white spots that are raised on top of the red spots. These spots may begin to form one large spot as they progress. 

Although benign, rashes in children caused by molluscum contagiosum are unpleasant. Molluscum contagiosum is often identified by raised bumps with indentations in the middle. These bumps are typically skin-colored, pink, or pearly white. The bumps can occur all over the body, but most commonly affect the stomach, arms, legs, chest, and face.

  • Fungal Infections 

The fungal infection most commonly diagnosed in children is ringworm. Ringworm causes patches to develop on your child’s skin that are round or oval-shaped. The centers are smooth, while the borders are scaly and red. Patches can become puffy and inflamed, as well as itchy and painful. Although called ringworm, this skin condition may not immediately appear as a ring. 

What Causes Skin Rashes in Children?

Just as there are many types of skin rashes in children, there are many causes of skin rashes in children. 

Diaper rash is caused by moisture in your child’s diaper causing fungi or bacteria to grow, leading to skin irritation. Cradle cap can be caused by sebaceous glands overproducing oil. Eczema, just like in adults, is caused by an irregular skin barrier and allergies. An irregular skin barrier makes the skin more sensitive to infections and dryness, leading to irritation. Seasonal or allergic triggers can cause not only eczema, but also contact dermatitis. 

Group A Streptococcus, a bacteria, causes both Scarlet fever and impetigo. Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is another common cause of impetigo. 

Fifth disease is caused by Parvovirus B19. Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Human herpesvirus 6 causes roseola, which is why it’s also called sixth disease. Rubella may look like measles, but a different virus leads to rubella. However, a vaccine can prevent rubella. 

Measles is caused by the morbillivirus and is very contagious, but can be prevented by the measles or MMR vaccine. Molluscum contagiosum is one of the rashes caused by a virus by the same name – molluscum contagiosum. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by a virus in the enterovirus family. 

Although a common belief, ringworm is not caused by worms. It is caused by a fungus.

How to Treat Skin Rashes in Children

Many skin rashes in children will go away on their own, particularly those caused by viral infections, such as fifth disease, roseola, chickenpox, measles (unless complications develop), rubella, molluscum contagiosum, and hand, foot, and mouth disease. Diaper rash will improve if you keep the area dry and clean and can be prevented by applying ointments to protect the skin. Antihistamines can also help ease symptoms such as itchiness for these rashes.

Other rashes will improve with the help of antihistamines, ointments and creams, or other similar products. Cradle cap can be treated with medicated shampoos. Eczema symptoms can be treated by applying ointments and using preventative measures such as applying moisturizer immediately after bathing. Skin rashes in children caused by contact dermatitis can be treated with anti-itch creams and moisturizers, and, if needed, topical steroids. 

Scarlet fever and impetigo must be treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics may be administered orally or applied topically. Ringworm is treated with antifungal medication that is also administered orally or topically, depending on the severity of the rash.

How Do I Know If My Child’s Rash is Serious?

Although skin rashes in children are common, some rashes in children are serious. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Your child’s rash affects their eyes
  • The rash is blistering or oozing
  • Dots blue, red, or purple in color appear in the affected area
  • Fever, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath, or a stiff neck occur

If your child is in pain, uncomfortable, or you are worried, we recommend seeking care from a pediatric dermatologist. Our pediatric dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth J. Froelich, is board-certified by the American Board of Dermatology in pediatric dermatology and is one of the few pediatric dermatologists in the Pittsburgh area. 

If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Froelich, contact our offices. You can reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in pediatric dermatology. 

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