Rashes are common throughout childhood. They look painful and often itch, and they can develop because of allergies, a viral infection, fungal infection, or even serious medical conditions. Because rashes are so common it’s hard to know how to treat them —or if you should take your child to the doctor.
While it’s easy for parents to drive themselves crazy with worry over every rash that develops, understanding the basics of childhood rashes will ease your mind and help you make informed decisions.
Treating a rash at home
When your child develops a rash, there are a few things you can do treat it at home. You’ll first need to determine the cause of the rash, then you’ll have a better idea of where to start treatment.
Do you know what’s causing your child’s rash? Are they sick? Allergic to something? Unless your child’s symptoms are serious (see “when to see your doctor” below), the first thing you should try to do is figure out what’s causing the rash. Has your child come into contact with something that’s irritating their skin? Soaps, chemicals, jewelry, poison ivy, or even pets can cause allergic reactions. Does you baby or toddler just have diaper rash? Try to rule out causes. Even if you can’t pinpoint a clear cause, narrowing down the causes will help you if you need to take your child to the doctor.
Clean the skin
Use mild soap to gently wash your child’s rash in warm water. Avoid scrubbing, which could further irritate their rash. Pat the skin dry with a towel. Leave the rash uncovered.
For minor rashes where the skin isn’t broken, place a wet cloth on your child’s rash to reduce pain and itching. You can also use over-the-counter anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone and topical Benadryl. And if your child is older than 2 you can try a weight-appropriate dose of Benadryl or Claritin/Zytrec.
You may also want to cut your child’s fingernails and have them wear gloves at night. This will help prevent them from scratching the rash and possibly making it worse.
Blanching and non-blanching rashes
Many childhood rashes look dangerous, but a good percentage will go away on their own or with minimal treatment. So how can you tell if your child’s rash is serious? A quick and easy test will help you determine if a rash needs immediate medical treatment. This test will tell you if the rash “blanches,” or goes away with pressure.
- Press against your child’s rash gently with the pads of your fingers, or place the side of a glass tumbler against the rash.
- Pull away your fingers quickly to look or look through the side of the glass. If the rash disappears or turns white it’s a blanching rash. Rashes that blanch when touched aren’t usually serious. Most rashes are blanching rashes, including virus rashes and allergic reactions.
If the rash doesn’t disappear or turn white and has dark purple or red blotches (non-blanching), it could be serious. If that’s the case, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately to rule out more serious medical conditions.
When to see the doctor
Your child’s rash may be accompanied by various symptoms. Contact your doctor immediately if your child has the following:
- A rash that doesn’t get better after a few days or with over-the counter treatment
- Fever with a rash
- Painful urination with a rash
- A butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks
- Is younger than six months old
- Bruises not related to an injury
- A rash that looks like a bull’s eye or is oval in shape
- A rash that’s worse in skin creases
- A widespread rash with enlarged, tender lymph nodes
- A non-blanching rash
- Hives and/or swelling in the mouth or face
- Isn’t eating well
- Has changes in breathing or trouble breathing
- A rash that’s red, swollen, wet, crusty, blistering, or oozy
- A rash that peels and is localized on the palms or the soles of the feet
- A rash where the skin is sloughing, involves the eyes, or is inside the mouth or vaginal area
In addition, talk to your child’s doctor anytime you have concerns about their health. It’s better to talk to your doctor about a rash (even if it ends up being benign and self-limiting) than to miss symptoms of a serious medical condition.