I Think My Child Has a Rash

Sept. 25, 2013

Did a skin rash appear on your kid? Here's how to handle it.

With three active sons, Raleigh, N.C. mom Michelle Morton has seen her share of rashes. There was that sunscreen sensitivity that didn't itch, but was very red and irritated and the raised, red and itchy poison ivy that covered one son's leg. And then who could forget her son's lacy red rash from the common virus associated with hand, foot and mouth disease.

Kids seem to spend most of their time getting into who-knows-what and winding up with what-on-earth-is-that rashes. But while they're not pretty to look at, how worrisome are rashes?

We asked Dr. Jennifer Shu, medical editor of HealthyChildren.org, and Dr. Joseph Jorizzo, professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University and Weill Cornell Medical College, for advice about what kinds of rashes kids get and when to worry.

  1. Why Do Kids Get So Many Rashes?
    The three most common causes of kids' rashes include atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis and fungal infections, says Jorizzo. But they can also be triggered by contact with irritating plants, a medication reaction, a bacterial infection, a bug bite or a virus like chicken pox or Fifth's disease.

  2. What Are Common Rashes?
    Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all common and can happen even during the winter if your child touches a vine of one of these plants. Suspect one of these culprits if your child was near any of these plants in the past couple of days and now has a streaky, red, itchy rash that forms small blisters.

    Eczema looks like red, sandpapery, sometimes crusty itchy patches on the skin, shares Jorizzo. Psoriasis lesions have definite margins, he says, and have a silvery scale rather than eczema's bright red color.

  3. When Should I Worry?
    "If your child is acting fine and has no fever, it is probably nothing to worry about," says Shu. But there are some instances when a doctor should check it out.

    If your child has recently taken any medication, a rash could indicate a reaction -- even if it's one she has taken before. If a rash gets worse, you should have it looked at by a doctor. If it's a bug bite and starts to look redder or bigger or feel hot, an infection could be brewing, says Shu. If poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak appears on the face, call your doctor.

    If your child's rash came on quickly, looks like hives and your child is having trouble breathing, call 911.

  4. What Should I Do About Tick Bites?
    Tick bites cause many odd rashes, says Jorizzo, and parents can't always tell if they're serious. But ticks carry diseases like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever that need treatment. If your child has been outside in the woods, in long grass or in any outdoor area where the incidence of either disease is high, watch for any rashes (even if you don't see the tick). A Lyme disease rash may resemble a bull's-eye, but other tick rashes are not always so distinctive.

  5. How Do I Treat a Rash?
    Eczema rashes are more common in winter when the heat comes on and the humidity plummets, says Jorizzo. If your child has dry skin, using a cool-mist humidifier can help. After a bath (keep it short and not too hot!) apply a lotion containing ceramides in the direction of the hair growth, says Jorizzo. (CeraVe is one ceramide-containing product).

    Bug bites, scrapes and reactions to pool chemicals are seen more in the summer. Watch those rashes for signs of infection: oozing, pus, feeling hot to the touch or increasing redness. If the rash is very itchy, ask your doctor about an antihistamine medication.

  6. How Can I Prevent a Rash?
    To prevent a rash, you have to be vigilant. But avoiding poison ivy, bugs, dry air and allergic reactions is not always possible. Try to elude triggers and watch any new rashes to make sure they aren't getting worse.

    If your child develops a rash, do some sleuthing. Have you used a new laundry detergent, soap or shampoo? Did your child recently go in a pool or a hot tub? Has she taken medication? And if she complains of feeling ill or has a fever, bring her to the doctor.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is an award-winning freelance writer and a mom to two girls. She lives in Massachusetts and has written for local and national publications.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.  Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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