Some rashes in children will disappear without treatment, but some need some help healing. Here's how to treat common types of rashes and when to call the doctor for red, itchy skin.

October 16, 2018
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Treating rashes properly depends on a few factors: How is the child's general condition? Does the child have other symptoms or signs of illness? How quickly did the rash appear? Is it localized or is it generalized all over the body? How much does the rash bother your child? Is your child on any medications? Has your child been exposed to any new foods, soaps, or skin products?

For the most part, these are general ways to treat rashes:

  • Bacterial skin infections should be treated with a topical antiseptic or antibacterial treatment. Topical treatment is usually sufficient, but oral antibiotics are sometimes necessary. If the lesions are extensive, or spreading, call your child's doctor.
  • Give oral antihistamines (such as Children's Benadryl) to decrease the itch and the rash. Give antihistamines before bedtime because the medicine often makes children sleepy. Avoid antihistamine creams because they can irritate the skin and make the rash worse.
  • Cool (not hot) baths with oatmeal will ease an itchy rash, and, after your child's bath, apply calamine lotion or a baking soda solution to the rash. For localized itchy rashes, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream if the rash is not a result of fungus, chicken pox, or bacterial infection.
  • If your child has just started taking a new medicine, and develops a rash, consult your physician immediately.

When to Call the Doctor for a Rash

Always contact 911 or the doctor immediately if your child:

  • Has a high fever, headache, sore throat, or vomiting in addition to the rash.
  • Has a rash close to the eyes or one that affects the eyes.
  • Has a rash that has become infected with bacteria or fungi.
  • Has eaten food or taken a new medicine before a rash developed.
  • Has a fever as well as purplish patches or tiny red dots that do not blanch, which may be a sign of sepsis and meningitis.
  • Has an intensely red rash that is very tender to the touch, which may be a sign of cellulitis.
  • Has impetigo, which is commonly a secondary bacterial infection of the skin.
  • Has the bullseye rash associated with Lyme disease.
  • Has hives with simultaneous face swelling and breathing or swallowing difficulties, which may indicate an anaphylactic reaction.
  • Has a rash that has persisted for more than three days, regardless of the cause.

How to Prevent Rashes

  • Avoid strong substances (soaps, detergents, perfumes) that may irritate the skin and make it more susceptible to injury and rashes. Avoid letting a child wear tight-fitting clothing that can irritate the skin.
  • With eczema, dry skin is causing the itch. Frequent use of moisturizing creams and oil baths will soften the skin. Cut your child's nails short to prevent scratching injuries and skin damage. Certain foods can aggravate atopic eczema in children, so identify and avoid them if possible.
  • Change diapers frequently and apply good general hygiene to prevent diaper rashes.

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