What to do when your child has a rash
What should you do if you notice a rash on your child's skin? First, don't panic! Most rashes do not require urgent medical care, except for:
- skin rashes combined with difficulty breathing or swelling of the face or throat
- skin rashes with extensive blistering or peeling of the skin
- a rash consisting of tiny, pinpoint reddish or purplish dots that are flush with the skin and do not blanch (turn skin-colored or white) when you push on them; these may signal a serious infection or bleeding problem
Get immediate medical attention for your child if they have any of the above symptoms.
Other rashes don't need urgent medical care but should still be seen by a doctor. Make an appointment to see your child's pediatrician if:
- your child is under 3 months of age
- your child has blisters
- the rash doesn't get better after 3 days of home treatment (see below)
- the rash interferes with your child's daily activities or causes them significant distress
- the rash contains pus, appears wet, or is oozing (signs of infection)
Before you visit the doctor, note the following things:
- when the rash started
- the location, colour, and size of the rash
- whether it is flat or raised
- whether there are blisters or pus
- whether the rash seems to come and go or move around on the body
- whether your child was recently exposed to any new food, medication or self-care products (including laundry detergent, fabric softeners or other soaps)
This can help the doctor pinpoint the cause of the rash.
If the rash doesn't meet any of the "call a doctor" criteria listed above, you can try home treatment first:
- Identify and remove potential causes: If your child was recently exposed to a new food, medication, piece of clothing, laundry detergent, or other personal care product, this may be the culprit. Rashes can also be caused by sun exposure, insect bites, or viral or bacterial infections. If you suspect a medication may be the cause, contact your doctor or pharmacist before stopping the medication. Otherwise, take steps to remove potential rash causes. For example, switch to a child-friendly laundry detergent that's free of dyes and perfumes, specially designed for sensitive skin, and dermatologist tested. In some cases, you may need a doctor's help to narrow down the cause of the rash.
- Encourage your child not to scratch the rash. Scratching can lead to infection and more severe itching. Applying a cool, clean compress to the area can help reduce itching.
- For rashes covering larger areas, give your child a soothing cool bath, softly pat the skin dry, then apply a moisturizer (use a dye-free and perfume-free product designed for children).
- Ask your pharmacist about the use of over-the-counter products such as hydrocortisone cream or diphenydramine cream, spray, or syrup to ease the itching. For a diaper rash, zinc creams or ointments can be helpful.
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