What is contact dermatitis?

Q: My baby has a bumpy, red rash on her cheeks. What could it be?

A: This is most likely contact dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to a specific irritant like soap, detergent, or even the adhesive in bandages. Contact dermatitis looks like a red, raised rash and is usually confined to one area (the area that came into contact with the irritant); it can be dry or a little oozy. Since the rash is on your baby's cheeks, our guess is that it may be your laundry detergent, since your baby probably rubs her face against her bed sheets at night.

Contact dermatitis usually subsides in a few days by simply avoiding the irritant (trying a fragrance-free, baby-friendly detergent may help). If the rash is oozing, applying a cool compress for five minutes and allowing the area to air dry should minimize the leakage. You can also dab a little Vaseline or Aquaphor on the area to keep it moisturized or mix in a little antibacterial ointment, like Neosporin, to prevent infection. If your child seems itchy and uncomfortable, ask your doctor if it's okay to use a small amount of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to alleviate her symptoms. If the rash doesn't improve or starts spreading, give your pediatrician a call, since an oral steroid may be needed to clear it up.

 Copyright 2003 Meredith Corporation. Updated 2009.

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