My kid has a rash. What is it and what do I do?

Advice for the puzzled parent

Ann Ferguson, MD, from the Fairview clinic in Eagan, has seen her fair share of rashes. We asked her to share some of her expertise:

As a pediatrician and a mom, I want to assure you that rashes can happen despite your best efforts. If your child does get a rash, know that there's a lot you can do to put your child at ease, while we figure out what's causing it.

First, stop the scratching

The first thing to do for a child with a rash is to find ways to get them to stop scratching. They’ll probably tell you the rash itches, but scratching will almost always make things worse.

Sometimes putting socks or mittens on an infant’s hands can help -- especially if you’ve figured out how to keep your child from taking them off! Keeping fingernails well-trimmed is important, too. Most rashes can also be cared for at home with an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or ointment, such as hydrocortisone.

In general, rashes that appear scaly and dry benefit from moisturizing creams, while anything that's oozing usually should be kept dry.

Next, find out what type of rash it might be

Because ‘rash’ is a very vague term, referring to any abnormal change in the skin color or texture, it's good to try to figure out what kind of rash you’re dealing with.

For infants and toddlers, diaper rash on their bottom is very common. To keep diaper rash at bay, it’s best to do frequent diaper changes and use a zinc-based cream if redness appears. If it worsens despite that, take the baby to your pediatrician.

Other typical rashes include:
  • Eczema, which is often seen in kids with allergies and asthma. It can happen anywhere on the body, but in infants more commonly on the face, arms, and legs. As children get older, eczema is more common in joint creases.
  • Viral rashes are often seen with other symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, etc.
  • Ringworm is a fungal infection and can happen anywhere on the body.
How do you find out what kind of rash your child has? Online research from reliable medical websites can help, as it can be useful to look at images similar to your child’s rash. It can also be helpful to take a picture of your child’s rash and note any changes to the rash over time.

When to see a doctor

Most rashes will get better with time, but sometimes they need medical attention. If a change in your child’s skin lasts longer than a few weeks, it would be worth getting evaluated by your provider.

We typically see patients after they've tried several products and the rash isn't getting better. You may have to try more than one thing, even if you see a doctor. If you come to the clinic, make sure your provider offers a plan with multiple treatment options in case the first one doesn’t work.

Some rashes are more serious: They’re contagious or a true emergency. Common contagious rashes are ringworm, impetigo, cold sores, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

When a child is very sick, a rash could be a clue to a more serious illness. A rash with blue/purplish dots, for example, could be a sign of meningitis. You should always seek medical care if the rash:

  • Affects a child’s eyes.
  • Is crusty, blistering, or oozing.
  • Is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, vomiting, or trouble breathing.

How to prevent rashes

Keeping your child’s skin well-hydrated is the key to preventing rashes. Most rashes and other skin conditions are aggravated by the dry, cold air of winter, so make sure they drink plenty of water. Using an over-the-counter cream within a few minutes after a bath or shower will help maintain moisture. I recommend creams over lotions, as lotions are often too watery.

Whether you’re doing your best to prevent a rash or caring for a child who has one, the love you show your child is good medicine, too.

To make an appointment for a rash or whatever pops up, schedule online with a provider, choose a clinic near you, or call 855-FAIRVIEW.

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