what causes red cheeks in a child

What Causes Red Cheeks in a Child?

You might notice your child has red cheeks after they’ve been playing, but what causes red cheeks in a child when there’s no obvious cause? Well, there are many reasons, some medical and some not. Continue on to learn about common medical conditions that cause red cheeks, how to treat them, and when your child needs medical treatment.

What Medical Conditions or Illnesses Cause Red Cheeks in a Child?


Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is one of the most common causes of red cheeks in children. It most often appears on a child’s scalp, forehead, and cheeks, but can actually occur anywhere on their body. If eczema is the cause of your child’s red cheeks, the skin may also be dry, scaly, bumpy, and itchy. 

Fifth Disease

 Although it may not be on your radar, fifth disease is a common virus that can cause red cheeks in children. Following exposure to fifth disease, children develop symptoms such as congestion, headache, fever, body aches, and the tell-tale sign of red cheeks. It may even look like your child has been slapped, which is why this is commonly referred to as slapped cheek syndrome. Fifth disease is contagious, at least until your child’s cheeks turn red, so it’s important to keep them away from others when their symptoms appear until they’re no longer contagious.

Fifth disease often looks worse than it is. It is typically a mild infection that clears up on its own in about three weeks. And once you’ve had fifth disease, you’re immune to it for the rest of your life. However, you should still consult your pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist to confirm fifth disease as the cause of your child’s red cheeks as some people may be prone to more serious symptoms. 

Is Slapped Cheek the Same as Scarlet Fever?

While slapped cheek syndrome can be mistaken for scarlet fever, they are not the same illness. Why are they often confused for one another? Both illnesses are accompanied by flu-like symptoms and a red rash. However, the red rash associated with scarlet fever typically begins on your child’s chest or stomach, while redness associated with slapped cheek syndrome begins on the cheeks. 

Are Red Cheeks Always Fifth Disease?

There are other causes of red cheeks in a child, like eczema (mentioned above), cold weather, or a sunburn. This means red cheeks aren’t always associated with fifth disease. Your toddler’s red cheeks are more likely to be a sign of fifth disease if they also have symptoms such as fever, congestion, body aches, and a headache. If you’re unsure of the cause of your child’s red cheeks, contact your pediatric dermatologist or pediatrician.

Why Are My Baby’s Cheeks Red but No Fever?

Some reasons your child’s cheeks are red, yet have no fever, can be eczema, dry skin, or a sunburn. Dry, chapped cheeks are more likely in colder weather. Oftentimes, your little one’s nose and cheeks are left exposed to the cold despite being bundled up in a warm jacket. Or it might be a little too much time spent in the sun. Remember to apply a fragrance free SPF of at least 30 to help protect your toddler’s sensitive skin from UV rays.

What Helps Redness on Cheeks?

Whether your child’s red cheeks are a result of the weather or a medical illness, you want to treat their cheeks. But how do you treat them? It depends on the reason for their red cheeks. 

If eczema is to blame, the importance of treatment, besides easing your child’s symptoms, is to rebuild the protective layer of the skin’s surface. How do you do this? Moisturize! Make sure to use a moisturizer that is safe for children’s skin and won’t irritate the eczema more. 

There are a number of triggers for eczema symptoms, including sweating, animal dander, and rough fabric. Which means treating your child’s eczema symptoms goes beyond treating current eczema breakouts. Certain lifestyle changes are needed when someone has a diagnosis of eczema as there is no cure for eczema. These include bathing in lukewarm water, wearing fabrics that don’t irritate the skin, and avoiding intense temperature changes when possible.

Since fifth disease is a viral disease, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Which means, if your child has red cheeks associated with fifth disease, the treatment is mostly at-home remedies. These include bathing in lukewarm water and applying moisturizer to their cheeks to keep them comfortable and avoid worsening the affected areas.

If your child’s red cheeks are a result of the weather, aim to keep your child’s skin hydrated. Apply a gentle moisturizing cream, preferably fragrance free, to avoid irritating the skin even more. Make sure to provide your child with plenty of fluids to help hydrate them from the inside out. Avoid using hot water for your child’s bath and use warm water instead. 

When Should I Seek Medical Care for Red Cheeks in My Child?

Children often can’t tell us what’s going on with their bodies, so seeking care from a pediatric dermatologist when it comes to your child’s red cheeks can not only help alleviate and manage symptoms, but provide peace of mind. A pediatric dermatologist can recommend over-the-counter moisturizers, prescribe medicated creams, antihistamines, and even oral medications to help decrease the redness of your child’s cheeks. 

Our pediatric dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth J. Froelich, is one of the few pediatric dermatologists in the Pittsburgh area. One of the conditions she most often sees in children is eczema, but she’s highly trained in treating a variety of pediatric skin conditions. Additionally, she’s developed the skills to perform skin exams on even the youngest of children.

If your child demonstrates any of the following symptoms with their rash, seek immediate medical attention: 

  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Fever
  • Swelling/tightness of the throat
  • Peeling skin or blisters
  • Breathing troubles
  • Streaks of red
  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising surrounding the rash

If you want to find out what’s causing red cheeks in your child, have your child’s pediatric dermatologist conduct a skin examination to identify the cause. 

Schedule an Appointment for Your Child

You can fill out our form below to schedule an appointment, reach our team at 412-429-2570 or visit our contact page to see all of our locations Dr. Froelich practices at. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology. 

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