The source of a childhood rash can be anything from an illness to contact with an irritating substance. Some rashes are incredibly mild with little to no itching while others can result in rare complications. To learn more about common childhood rashes, including how to identify them, read the article below.
Viruses, bacteria and environmental irritants are all potential rash triggers for children, as children’s immature immune systems can leave them vulnerable to viral and bacterial illnesses. Plus, children’s skin is easily irritated by dyes and fragrances. Because of these sensitivities, children frequently develop rashes. With so many possible causes, you might struggle to find the source of your child’s rash. This article will help you sort out the symptoms and learn when to seek your doctor’s help.
Viral rashes spread quickly between kids, especially in school or daycare facilities. Common childhood viral rashes include fifth disease, roseola, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, measles, rubella and chickenpox. Pregnant women can also be susceptible to these rashes and infections, so read on for symptoms and possible complications.
- Fifth disease, or “slapped-cheek disease,” begins with a fever and other flu-like symptoms. After these symptoms disappear, a rash emerges, first on the cheeks (hence the moniker) and then in some instances on other parts of the body as well. The rash may itch, particularly on the soles of the feet, but can vary in intensity and even fluctuate for several weeks. Although symptoms are usually minor, rare complications can occur such as persistent anemia in children who have cancer or leukemia or, in rare cases, miscarriage for women in the early stages of pregnancy.
- Roseola symptoms include high fever, sore throat, cough or runny nose. The fever, which can reach higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, disappears within a week. This is sometimes followed by a non-itchy rash with pale edges develops on the chest, stomach, back and arms. Other symptoms could include fatigue, swollen eyelids and mild diarrhea. In rare cases, the high fever causes seizures, in which case contact your doctor immediately.
- Hand-foot-and-mouth disease starts with a fever, sore throat and other flu-like symptoms including loss of appetite. Then, within a few days, sores or blisters appear on the hands, feet and inside the mouth and throat. Occasionally, these sores also show up on the buttocks, knees, elbows and genitals. With the mouth sores, your child may not feel like eating or drinking; contact your doctor if your child shows signs of dehydration.
Immunizations for measles, rubella and chicken pox mean that most children will not contract these illnesses. However, for parents with children too young to vaccinate or for those who choose not to vaccinate their children for these diseases, be sure to keep an eye out for the following symptoms.
- Measles infections begin with a low fever that can increase to higher than 104 degrees Fahrenheit after the onset of the rash. Your child may also have a cough, sore throat and conjunctivitis (red, watery eyes) for the first few days. After the initial symptoms, a rash appears on the face and eventually can cover the entire body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pneumonia, ear infections, diarrhea and encephalitis are all possible complications of a measles infection.
- Rubella infections are mild compared to measles, but can have serious complications for pregnant women. In children, symptoms can be mild: look for low-grade fever, headache, congestion and puffy red eyes. Additional symptoms include painful joints, swollen lymph nodes on the back of the neck and a rash that, like measles, begins on the face and moves down to the rest of the body. Pregnant women infected with rubella risk having a child with birth defects. So, if you are pregnant and suspect you have been infected with rubella, contact your doctor immediately.
- Chickenpox symptoms can last up to 10 days. As with most other viral rashes, the rash begins a few days after some initial mild symptoms including fever, poor appetite, headache and fatigue. The rash begins as itchy red bumps that turn into blisters that pop, ooze and scab over. Your child is contagious from before the fever begins until the blisters form scabs.
Bacterial infections such as impetigo, scarlet fever and Lyme disease can also lead to a rash. But, unlike a viral rash, your child’s bacterial infection may last longer and result in a higher fever that does not improve on its own.
- Impetigo begins when bacteria infect an open sore or cut on the skin. Weeping blisters, an open sore or an itchy rash form where the original cut was located. Fluid from the blisters or scratching the rash spreads the infection from one part of the body to another or from person to person.
- Scarlet fever results from strep-causing bacteria that live in an infected person’s nose and throat. Shortly after contracting the illness, a rough, bumpy red rash may appear, sometimes with darker red patches in the areas of the armpits, groin, joints and neck. Other symptoms may include a severely sore throat, fever, chills, red tongue, headache, nausea and vomiting. Your doctor will perform a strep bacteria test by swabbing your child’s throat to diagnose scarlet fever.
- Lyme disease is spread by a bacteria found on ticks. Watch for a rash that resembles a “bull’s-eye” with a red spot where the bite occurred surrounded by a pale area and a dark red circle or oval. Your child may also experience symptoms similar to the flu along with joint pain and inflammation. Contact your doctor if your child exhibits any Lyme disease-like symptoms, since Lyme disease can lead to chronic joint pain if not treated early.
Fungal rashes, most commonly appearing in hot and humid climates, usually form in warm, moist areas and can be passed to people from animals, clothing or furniture. The three most common fungal rashes – ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch – are caused by different species of a Tinea fungus.
- Ringworm spreads from direct contact with infected animals or another infected person via furniture or clothing, particularly in heat and humidity. Symptoms begin as a red ring on the skin and can spread from one part of the body to another by contact with contaminated skin or clothing.
- Athlete’s foot and jock itch are both caused by a fungus that grows in warm, moist places on the body and exhibit similar symptoms. Athlete’s foot occurs on the foot and in between the toes while jock itch affects groin and buttocks areas. Both result in an itchy, hot rash, blisters and peeling or cracking skin.
Other common rashes
Some rashes, such as eczema and hives, develop from exposure to certain environmental irritants or substances to which your child is allergic. These rashes can be more difficult to manage, because it requires some detective work to figure out the source of the reaction.
- Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, symptoms range from dry, itchy red patches to red bumps that can ooze and scab. In some cases, infants and children outgrow eczema, while in other cases, this skin condition can last into adulthood. What causes eczema is still unclear, but environmental factors, such as detergents, stress or hot and cold weather, can worsen your child’s symptoms.
- Hives form when someone comes into contact with allergens like animals, plants, food or antibiotics. Your child can experience raised, itchy bumps on their skin that may take a day or up to several weeks to disappear.
When to call the doctor
With any rash or skin infection, it is important to know when to contact your doctor. Call your child’s doctor immediately if you see any of the following symptoms associated with a rash:
- Fever higher than 100.4 in infants or 101.3 in children
- Swelling in the throat or difficulty with breathing
- Extensive rash that covers a large portion of your child’s body
- Rash appears to be infected
Throughout the year, help prevent the spread of infection by teaching your kids to wash their hands frequently and avoid sharing personal items. Most importantly, remember that rashes can be difficult to diagnose, so please take your child to your doctor for an exam before beginning any treatment.
To learn how to prevent and treat common childhood rashes, check out A Guide to Childhood Rashes Part 2: Prevention and Treatment.
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