Skip to Content

Rash, Age 11 and Younger

Topic Overview

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 measles or 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:

  • Chickenpox (varicella). This rash is a common, contagious illness caused by a type of herpes virus.
  • Fifth disease. This facial rash looks like the cheeks have been slapped. It also causes a lacy, pink rash on the arms and legs, torso, and buttocks.
  • Roseola (roseola infantum). This rash occurs about 3 days after a high fever.
  • Unknown virus. Sometimes the specific virus that causes a rash is never known.

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:

  • Diaper rash. This rash is caused by rubbing, moisture, chemicals, or bacteria in the baby's urine or stool; substances in disposable diapers; or soaps used to wash cloth diapers.
  • Impetigo. This bacterial skin infection is caused by strep or staph bacteria.
  • Heat rash (prickly heat). This rash often results from a well-meaning parent dressing his or her baby too warmly, but it can happen to any baby in very hot weather.
  • Cold sores. These are sometimes called fever blisters. Cold sores are clusters of small blisters on the lip and outer edge of the mouth caused by the herpes simplex virus.
  • Contact dermatitis. This rash is caused by contact with a substance, such as food, soap, or lotion, that causes an allergic reaction. Most contact dermatitis is mild and goes away when your child's skin no longer comes in contact with the substance.
  • Cradle cap. Cradle cap is an oily, yellow scaling or crusting on a baby's scalp. It is common in babies and is easily treated. Cradle cap is not a part of any illness and does not mean that a baby is not being well cared for.

Rashes that may require a visit to a doctor include:

  • Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria carried by deer ticks in some areas. A characteristic expanding red rash usually occurs at the site of the tick bite and is followed by flu-like symptoms, such as a headache, chills, fever, body aches, and stiffness.
  • A rash that looks like a sunburn and a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher. This type of rash may be caused by a rare condition called toxic shock syndrome.
  • A very rare and serious type of generalized red rash called toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). This type of rash may cause the skin to peel away, leaving large areas of tissue that weep or ooze fluid like a severe burn. TEN may occur after the use of some medicines.

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 doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Does your child have a rash?
Yes
Rash
No
Rash
How old are you?
Less than 3 months
Less than 3 months
3 months to less than 3 years
3 months to less than 3 years
3 to 11 years
3 to 11 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Does your child have a tick bite?
Yes
Tick bite
No
Tick bite
Has your child been bitten or stung by an insect or spider?
Yes
Insect or spider bite or sting
No
Insect or spider bite or sting
Do you think your baby might be very sick?
A sick baby probably will not be acting normally. For example, the baby may be much fussier than usual or not want to eat.
Yes
Baby might be very sick
No
Baby might be very sick
How sick do you think your baby is?
Extremely sick
Baby is very sick (limp and not responsive)
Sick
Baby is sick (sleepier than usual, not eating or drinking like usual)
Does your child have symptoms of shock?
Yes
Signs of shock
No
Signs of shock
Could your child be having a severe allergic reaction?
This is more likely if your child has had a bad reaction to something in the past.
Yes
Possible severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
No
Possible severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
Does your child have symptoms of a serious illness?
Yes
Symptoms of serious illness
No
Symptoms of serious illness
Have tiny red or purple spots or bruises appeared suddenly?
Yes
Sudden appearance of red or purple spots or bruising
No
Sudden appearance of red or purple spots or bruising
Does your child have any abnormal bleeding?
Yes
Abnormal bleeding
No
Abnormal bleeding
Does your child feel lightheaded and dizzy, like he or she is going to faint?
It's normal for some people to feel a little lightheaded when they first stand up. But anything more than that may be serious.
Yes
Feels faint or lightheaded
No
Feels faint or lightheaded
Is your child bleeding now?
Yes
Abnormal bleeding now present
No
Abnormal bleeding now present
Are there any symptoms of infection?
Yes
Symptoms of infection
No
Symptoms of infection
Are there red streaks leading away from the area or pus draining from it?
Yes
Red streaks or pus
No
Red streaks or pus
Does your child have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or any surgical hardware in the area?
"Hardware" includes things like artificial joints, plates or screws, catheters, and medicine pumps.
Yes
Diabetes, immune problems, or surgical hardware in affected area
No
Diabetes, immune problems, or surgical hardware in affected area
Do you think that the rash may have been caused by abuse or neglect?
Yes
Rash may be caused by abuse or neglect
No
Rash may be caused by abuse or neglect
Do you think your baby has a fever?
Yes
Fever
No
Fever
Did you take a rectal temperature?
Taking a rectal temperature is the only way to be sure that a baby this age does not have a fever. If you don't know the rectal temperature, it's safest to assume the baby has a fever and needs to be seen by a doctor. Any problem that causes a fever at this age could be serious.
Yes
Rectal temperature taken
No
Rectal temperature taken
Is it 100.4°F (38°C) or higher?
Yes
Temperature at least 100.4°F (38°C)
No
Temperature at least 100.4°F (38°C)
Do you think your child has a fever?
Yes
Fever
No
Fever
Did you take your child's temperature?
Yes
Temperature taken
No
Temperature taken
How high is the fever? The answer may depend on how you took the temperature.
High: 104°F (40°C) or higher, oral
High fever: 104°F (40°C) or higher, oral
Moderate: 100.4°F (38°C) to 103.9°F (39.9°C), oral
Moderate fever: 100.4°F (38°C) to 103.9°F (39.9°C), oral
Mild: 100.3°F (37.9°C) or lower, oral
Mild fever: 100.3°F (37.9°C) or lower, oral
How high do you think the fever is?
High
Feels fever is high
Moderate
Feels fever is moderate
Mild or low
Feels fever is mild
How long has your child had a fever?
Less than 2 days (48 hours)
Fever for less than 2 days
From 2 days to less than 1 week
Fever for more than 2 days and less than 1 week
1 week or longer
Fever for 1 week or more
Does your child have a rash that looks like a sunburn?
Yes
Sunburn-like rash
No
Sunburn-like rash
Does your child have a health problem or take medicine that weakens his or her immune system?
Yes
Disease or medicine that causes immune system problems
No
Disease or medicine that causes immune system problems
Does the rash have blisters?
Yes
Rash has blisters
No
Rash has blisters
Is the rash:
All over the body?
Rash is all over the body
In one area only?
Rash is in one area of the body
Is the rash a red, peeling rash that leaves very large areas raw and oozing fluid?
Yes
Red, peeling rash with large areas that are raw and ooze fluid
No
Red, peeling rash with large areas that are raw and ooze fluid
Does your child have a sore throat?
Certain illnesses can cause a rash and a sore throat. Your child may need to be seen sooner if he or she has both.
Yes
Sore throat
No
Sore throat
Are there sores or a rash inside the mouth or nose or in the eyes?
Yes
Rash or sores in mouth, nose, or eyes
No
Rash or sores in mouth, nose, or eyes
Has your child had a sore on the skin for more than a week?
Yes
Sore on the skin for more than 1 week
No
Sore on the skin for more than 1 week
Is there a new rash on only one side of your child's body? The rash may be in a strip or band.
Yes
New band-shaped rash on one side
No
New band-shaped rash on one side
Do you think that a medicine could be causing the rash?
Think about whether the rash appeared after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing rash
No
Medicine may be causing rash
Is the rash itchy?
Yes
Itchy rash
No
Itchy rash
Is the itching severe?
Severe means that you are scratching so hard that your skin is cut or bleeding.
Yes
Severe itching
No
Severe itching
Has the itching interfered with sleeping or normal activities for more than 2 days?
Yes
Itching has disrupted sleep or normal activities for more than 2 days
No
Itching has disrupted sleep or normal activities for more than 2 days
Does the rash hurt?
Yes
Painful rash
No
Painful rash
Does the rash produce a honey-colored drainage that dries into crusts and covers an area larger than 2 in. (5.1 cm)?
Yes
Honey-colored drainage that dries into crusts and covers more than 2 in. (5.1 cm)
No
Honey-colored drainage that dries into crusts and covers more than 2 in. (5.1 cm)
Has your child had a rash for more than 2 weeks?
Yes
Rash for more than 2 weeks
No
Rash for more than 2 weeks
Tick Bites
Insect Bites and Stings and Spider Bites

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call911or other emergency services now.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Shock is a life-threatening condition that may occur quickly after a sudden illness or injury.

Symptoms of shock in a child may include:

  • Passing out.
  • Being very sleepy or hard to wake up.
  • Not responding when being touched or talked to.
  • Breathing much faster than usual.
  • Acting confused. The child may not know where he or she is.

Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause a rash. A few common examples are:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve).
  • Pain medicines, such as codeine.
  • Seizure medicines.

A baby that is extremely sick:

  • May be limp and floppy like a rag doll.
  • May not respond at all to being held, touched, or talked to.
  • May be hard to wake up.

A baby that is sick (but not extremely sick):

  • May be sleepier than usual.
  • May not eat or drink as much as usual.

Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may include:

  • The sudden appearance of raised, red areas (hives) all over the body.
  • Rapid swelling of the throat, mouth, or tongue.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Passing out (losing consciousness). Or you may feel very lightheaded or suddenly feel weak, confused, or restless.

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.

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"):

  • Are tiny, flat red or purple spots in the skin or the lining of the mouth.
  • Do not turn white when you press on them.
  • Range from the size of a pinpoint to the size of a small pea and do not itch or cause pain.
  • May spread over a large area of the body within a few hours.
  • Are different than tiny, flat red spots or birthmarks that are present all the time.

Purpura (say "PURR-pyuh-ruh" or “PURR-puh-ruh”):

  • Is sudden, severe bruising that occurs for no clear reason.
  • May be in one area or all over.
  • Is different than the bruising that happens after you bump into something.

Symptoms of infection may include:

  • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or around the area.
  • Red streaks leading from the area.
  • Pus draining from the area.
  • A fever.

Symptoms of serious illness may include:

  • A severe headache.
  • A stiff neck.
  • Mental changes, such as feeling confused or much less alert.
  • Extreme fatigue (to the point where it's hard for you to function).
  • Shaking chills.

Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:

  • The baby is limp and floppy like a rag doll.
  • The baby doesn't respond at all to being held, touched, or talked to.
  • The baby is hard to wake up.

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

  • High: 104°F (40°C) and higher
  • Moderate: 100.4°F (38°C) to 103.9°F (39.9°C)
  • Mild: 100.3°F (37.9°C) and lower

Armpit (axillary) temperature

  • High: 103°F (39.5°C) and higher
  • Moderate: 99.4°F (37.4°C) to 102.9°F (39.4°C)
  • Mild: 99.3°F (37.3°C) and lower

Note: For children under 5 years old, rectal temperatures are the most accurate.

Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in children are:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and congenital heart disease.
  • Steroid medicines, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
  • Medicines taken after organ transplant.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
  • Not having a spleen.

Abnormal bleeding means any heavy or frequent bleeding or any bleeding that is not normal for you. Examples of abnormal bleeding include:

  • Nosebleeds.
  • Vaginal bleeding that is different (heavier, more frequent, at a different time of month) than what you are used to.
  • Rectal bleeding and bloody stools.
  • Bloody or pink urine.
  • Gums that bleed easily when you eat or gently brush your teeth.

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.

If you're not sure if a child's fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:

With a high fever:

  • The child feels very hot.
  • It is likely one of the highest fevers the child has ever had.

With a moderate fever:

  • The child feels warm or hot.
  • You are sure the child has a fever.

With a mild fever:

  • The child may feel a little warm.
  • You think the child might have a fever, but you're not sure.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Rash, Age 12 and Older

Home Treatment

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 as possible.

  • Use soap and water sparingly.
  • Leave the rash exposed to the air whenever possible.
  • Encourage your child not to scratch the rash.

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.

Relief from itching

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 chickenpox, eczema, or contact dermatitis are much more likely to itch. Sometimes itching can get worse by scratching.

Home treatment may help the itching.

  • Keep your child's fingernails clean and short, and encourage him or her not to scratch. Cover your baby's hands with socks to help keep him or her from scratching.
  • Keep your child out of the sun and in a cool place. Heat makes itching worse.
  • Keep the itchy area cool and wet if your child is older than age 9 months. Put cloths soaked in ice water on the rash a few times a day. Too much wetting and drying will dry the skin, which can increase itching. Do not put cloths soaked in ice water on the skin of a baby younger than 9 months. It may cause the baby's body temperature to go down.
  • Try an oatmeal bath to help relieve itching. Wrap 1 cup of oatmeal in a cotton cloth or sock, and boil it as you would to cook it. Allow it to cool to room temperature, and then use it as a sponge while bathing your child in cool water without soap. You can also buy a product at the store, such as Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal bath.
  • Dress your child in cotton clothing. Do not use wool and synthetic fabrics next to the skin.
  • Use gentle soaps, such as Basis, Cetaphil, Dove, or Oil of Olay, and use as little soap as possible. Do not use deodorant soaps on your child.
  • Wash your child's clothes with a mild soap, such as CheerFree or Ecover, rather than a detergent. Rinse twice to remove all traces of the soap. Do not use strong detergents.
  • Do not let the skin become too dry, which can make itching worse.

Nonprescription medicines for itching

Carefully read and follow all label directions on the medicine bottle or box.

  • Try calamine lotion for a rash caused by contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy or poison oak rashes.
  • For severe itching, apply hydrocortisone cream 4 times a day until the itch is gone. Note: Do not use the cream on children younger than age 2 unless your doctor tells you to do so. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal area on children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Try an oral antihistamine to help the scratch-itch cycle. Examples include chlorpheniramine maleate, such as Chlor-Trimeton, and diphenhydramine, such as Benadryl. Oral antihistamines are helpful when itching and discomfort are preventing your child from doing normal activities, such as going to school or getting to sleep. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first.
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your child's fever or pain:

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.

Safety tips
Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
  • Carefully read and follow all labels on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Give, but do not exceed, the maximum recommended doses.
  • Do not give your child a medicine if he or she has had an allergic reaction to it in the past.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless directed to do so by your child's doctor.
  • Do not give naproxen sodium (such as Aleve) to children younger than age 12 unless your child's doctor tells you to.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your child's doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Other symptoms, such as a fever, feeling ill, or signs of infection, are severe or become worse.
  • A new rash lasts longer than 2 weeks.
  • Your child's symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

Prevention

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 illnesses.

Other tips for preventing rashes include the following:

  • Dress your baby in as few clothes as possible during hot weather.
  • Breast-feed your child for at least the first 6 months, especially if either parent has a history of any allergy, including hay fever. Breast-fed children may develop fewer food allergies than those who are not breast-fed.
  • Do not bathe your child too often to prevent dry skin. Most children do not need daily bathing. Children with very dry skin may do better if they bathe once or twice a week.

Preparing For Your Appointment

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:

  • What is the history of the rash, including:
    • When did the rash start?
    • Where did the rash start?
    • Has the rash spread?
    • Has the rash changed?
    • Has anything made the rash better or worse?
  • Has your child had this rash before? If yes:
    • What were the circumstances?
    • When did he or she last have it?
    • How was it treated?
    • How long did it last?
  • What other symptoms has your child had? Symptoms may include itching, burning, stinging, tingling, numbness, pain, tenderness to the touch, fever, cold symptoms, or diarrhea.
  • Has your child been exposed to a contagious illness, such as measles, rubella, mumps, or chickenpox?
  • Have you recently used a new food, medicine, or product, such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, lotions, fabrics, new toys, or other object?
  • Has your child been exposed to poisonous plants. such as poison ivy, oak, or sumac?
  • Has your child had other health problems during the past 3 months?
  • Has your child recently traveled to a rural area or to another country?
  • Does anyone in your immediate family have a skin disorder or an allergy?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
  • What nonprescription medicines have your tried? Did they help?
  • Does your child have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Connect With CentraCare