Healthy skin is a barrier between the inside of the body and the
outside environment. A rash means some change has affected the skin. A rash is
generally a minor problem or is part of an illness that will go away on its
own. A rash may be caused by contact with a substance outside the body, such as
poison ivy (contact dermatitis), or by other more serious
illnesses, such as
scarlet fever (strep throat with rash).
Generalized rashes over the whole body that are caused
by viruses are more common in babies and young children than in adults. A rash
may be caused by a viral illness if the child also has a cold, a cough, or
diarrhea, or is in a day care setting where he or she is with other children
with viral illnesses. Most rashes caused by viruses are not serious and usually
go away over a few days to a week. Home treatment is often all that is needed
to treat these rashes.
After a child has had a rash caused by a
virus, his or her body generally builds an immunity to that virus. This
immunity protects the child from getting that specific viral illness and rash
again. Common rashes caused by viruses include:
Localized rashes which affect one area of the body
have many different causes and may go away with home treatment. Common
localized rashes that occur during childhood include:
Rashes that may require a visit to a doctor include:
To know how serious the rash
is, other symptoms that occur with the rash must be evaluated. Check your child's symptoms to decide if and when your child should see a
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause a
rash. A few common examples are:
A baby that is extremely sick:
A baby that is sick (but not extremely
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in children are:
Sudden tiny red or purple spots or
sudden bruising may be early symptoms of a serious
illness or bleeding problem. There are two types.
Petechiae (say "puh-TEE-kee-eye"):
Purpura (say "PURR-pyuh-ruh" or “PURR-puh-ruh”):
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it.
For children up to 11 years old, here are the ranges for high, moderate, and
mild according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth), ear, or rectal temperature
Armpit (axillary) temperature
Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are
the most accurate.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction
(anaphylaxis) may include:
A severe reaction can be life-threatening. If you have had a
bad allergic reaction to a substance before and are exposed to it again, treat
any symptoms as an emergency. Even if the symptoms are mild at first, they may
quickly become very severe.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Symptoms of serious illness may
Abnormal bleeding means any heavy or
frequent bleeding or any bleeding that is not normal for you. Examples of
abnormal bleeding include:
When you have abnormal bleeding in one area of your body, it's
important to think about whether you have been bleeding anywhere else. This can
be a symptom of a more serious health problem.
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby
may include the following:
If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or
mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Symptoms of infection may
Based on your answers, you need
or other emergency services now.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly
after a sudden illness or injury.
Symptoms of shock in a child may include:
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
Most rashes will go away without
medical treatment. Home treatment can often relieve pain and itching until the
rash goes away.
If your child has come in contact with a substance
that may cause
contact dermatitis, such as
poison ivy, immediately wash the area with large
amounts of water.
Once a rash has developed, leave it alone as much
If your child has a rash, he or she should not be in contact
with other children or pregnant women. Most viral rashes are contagious,
especially if a fever is present.
Itching with a rash is generally
not serious, but it can be annoying and may make a rash more likely to become
infected. Rashes caused by
eczema, or contact dermatitis are much more likely to
itch. Sometimes itching can get worse by scratching.
may help the itching.
and follow all label directions on the medicine bottle or box.
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Call your child's doctor if any of the following occur during home
Several childhood diseases that cause a
rash can be prevented through immunization. Immunizations help your child's
immune system recognize and quickly attack a virus
before it can cause a serious illness. Immunizations for chickenpox and for
measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) can prevent these common rash-causing
Other tips for preventing
rashes include the following:
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your child's condition by being prepared to answer
the following questions:
February 21, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
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