What Is a Yeast Diaper Rash?

Diaper rashes caused by a yeast infection can make your little one uncomfortable. Learn how to recognize and treat this common baby skin condition.

Father changing baby's diaper on changing table

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If you have an infant, you're bound to deal with a diaper rash—about half of all babies get them at one time or another, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But not all rashes are the same. Although diaper rashes can generally be described as reddish areas in your baby's diaper area that may be itchy or uncomfortable, there are several different varieties with unique causes. One type you may encounter is called a yeast diaper rash, which is spurred by yeast overgrowth.

How can you distinguish a yeast diaper rash from one triggered by irritation, allergies, or bacteria? "Yeast diaper rashes tend to be a brighter red rash that is seen within the creases or folds of the diaper region," describes Shannon Godsil, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. "It does not respond to diaper barrier creams and tends to worsen over time."

Keep reading for a closer look at yeast diaper rashes in babies, including causes, symptoms, risk factors, and most importantly, how to treat this pesky rash and prevent it from coming back.

What Causes Yeast Diaper Rashes?

Yeast diaper rashes are caused by yeast infections, which can result from an overgrowth of a type of fungus called candida. This usually happens when there's an imbalance of yeast on the skin, explains Ali Alhassani, M.D., head of clinical at Summer Health. "Yeast thrive in areas that are moist and not exposed to air very much. The three most common places we see yeast rashes are in the skin folds of the diaper area, the skin folds underneath a baby's neck, and on the tongue (called 'thrush')," says Dr. Alhassani.

Certain factors increase your baby's chances of getting a diaper yeast infection, including:

  • Diapers left wet for long periods of time
  • Taking antibiotics (or a breastfeeding parent is taking an antibiotic)
  • Pooping very frequently

Additionally, your baby may be at greater risk if they have a weakened immune system, says Dr. Alhassani. But the truth is, little ones don't have fully developed immune systems as it is, potentially making them more prone to yeast infections, notes Dr. Godsil. "Infants and toddlers have much more at-risk immune systems and therefore are more at risk of developing yeast not only in the diaper area, but in the mouth (thrush)," she explains.

Yeast Diaper Rash Symptoms

Yeast diaper rashes often resemble other types of diaper rashes, and it can be hard to tell whether your baby has one. That said, some characteristics stand out when it comes to diaper rashes caused by a yeast infection.

First, look for bumps. "Unlike a regular diaper rash, yeast rashes appear as dots, bumps, or pimples rather than uniform redness," explains Christina Johns, M.D., pediatric emergency physician at PM Pediatric Care. These red, raised areas usually form as one main rash area with several surrounding "satellite lesions," or nearby areas with smaller rashes, says Dr. Alhassani. The affected area may appear shiny.

Yeast diaper rashes can also be distinguished by their particular location. "Yeast rashes often appear in skin folds and hard-to-reach spots," says Dr. Johns.

Finally, yeast rashes tend to worsen over time, and they begin to take on an angry, bright red look. "If left untreated, affected areas can become raw, very angry looking, and even bleed," describes Dr. Johns . As time goes on, the skin can become flaky and scaly, too, adds Dr. Alhassani.

Yeast Diaper Rash Symptoms

The following symptoms are characteristic of yeast diaper rashes:

  • Raised red bumps that may resemble pimples
  • Rash that looks shiny
  • Rash that appears in skin folds
  • Satellite lesions (smaller rashes in nearby areas)
  • Worsening appearance over time (may bleed, ooze, or look angry)
  • Unresponsiveness to standard diaper rash creams
  • Signs of discomfort in your baby

How to Treat Yeast Diaper Rash

If your baby has a yeast diaper rash, they may be uncomfortable, and you'll want to look for ways to relieve the rash. Most yeast diaper rashes are treated with antifungal creams. You can get some of these creams over-the-counter, such clotrimazole and miconazole. Sometimes your pediatrician will need to prescribe a stronger antifungal cream, like nystatin. Using a steroid like hydrocortisone may also help clear up any inflammation, and this can be paired with the antifungal cream your pediatrician recommends.

But medication isn't the only way to tackle the problem: there are a few other steps to take when your baby is diagnosed with a yeast infection. "Keeping the affected area dry and clean is the first step in dealing with yeast rash," says Dr. Johns. "If possible, allot some diaper-free time (air things out!) to let the skin heal, and avoid using soap with fragrances, bubble bath, wipes, or other chemicals until the yeast rash passes."

The yeast diaper rash may start to fade after three days, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but symptoms may stick around for two to three weeks.

When to Visit the Doctor

Whenever your baby has a diaper rash that doesn't go away with simple barrier creams—or appears to worsen over time—you should visit your pediatrician. The AAP also recommends visiting a health care provider if "your baby is taking an antibiotic medicine and develops a bright pink or red rash with red spots at the edges," which is characteristic of a yeast diaper rash.

It can be very difficult to diagnose your baby's rash on your own. "It's important to talk to a pediatrician to confirm the diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment," says Dr. Alhassani. Your pediatrician can also prescribe any strong anti-fungal medications, if needed, and advise you on which over-the-counter medications to try.

Preventing Yeast Diaper Rashes

Treating yeast infections isn't just about clearing up the infection, but about preventing future outbreaks. Remember that yeast really likes dark, moist locations, and your baby's diaper area is just that. Never fear, though: there are some steps you can take to make your baby's diaper area less hospitable to yeast overgrowth

"Changing diapers often and cleaning the area thoroughly are your best tips for yeast rash prevention," recommends Dr. Johns. "Making sure that your baby is dry as much as possible deters yeast from growing." She also suggests using warm water to clean your baby's bottom, and not merely relying on wipes. You should also be mindful of the products you use, and opt for unscented soaps, lotions, and detergents whenever possible.

Finally, you want to air out your baby's bum occasionally, says Dr. Alhassani, and avoid tight-fighting, non-breathable diapers or pants. Always wash your hands before and after a diaper change.

The Bottom Line

Yeast diaper rashes are no fun, and it can be stressful to contend with one as a parent. But if you're dealing with a yeast diaper rash right now, you're not alone: they're one of the most common types of diaper rashes. Make sure to reach out to your pediatrician for questions and for the best treatment options.

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