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My Kid Has a Rash - What is It?

Updated on May 17, 2012

Introduction to Common Childhood Rashes

So your child has a rash, huh? Well, don't panic. Most rashes kids get are benign. You should consult your doctor, but here's a quick overview of the different causes of rashes your child could have.

Eczema: Eczema is a form of inflammation of the outer layer of skin, called dermatitis. Although its cause is unclear, It's thought to be related to allergies and asthma in that it is caused by an overly sensitive immune system. It causes a rash which is characterized by redness, itching, dryness, and flaking. When it's severe it can also cause skin swelling, oozing, and bleeding. Treatment usually involves moisturizers and corticosteroid creams.

Contact Dermatitis: Think poison ivy. Basically it's a reaction to an environmental irritant and usually causes an itchy rash of small blisters over the area exposed. It lasts for 1-2 weeks, and can be treated with topical corticosteroids like hydrocortisone to speed healing.

Hives: Also known as urticaria, hives are generally caused by histamines released during an allergic reaction to something. They cause a red, raised rash that waxes and wanes over different areas of the body, and usually go away over 24-48 hours. In and of themselves they aren't a cause of concern, but it's important to monitor the child's breathing as hives can be associated with throat swelling that impedes air flow. And most important is identifying the cause of the hives, since additional exposures to the irritant increases the risk of breathing problems. Common causes of hives include foods such as peanuts; medications (especially antibiotics); sun, heat, or cold exposure; and emotional stress. Antihistamines like Benadryl are usually the mainstay treatment, but you should seek medical attention immediately if your child's breathing becomes at all labored, they have trouble swallowing, or begin drooling.

Chicken Pox: A common rash in children, it's caused by the varicella zoster virus. It's become much less common recently since the advent of the vaccine. In adults, it can be a potentially fatal disease, and in children with compromised immune systems it can lead to an infection of the brain, but in healthy kids it's usually very benign. It is preceded by a prodrome of mild fever and lack of appetite for about 24 hours, and then the rash begins. The "teardrop" blisters occur all over the body and are itchy. They are usually in different stages of healing, meaning some are new while some are almost healed. The rash usually lasts for a couple weeks, and occasionally leads to scarring.

Measles: The MMR vaccine protects children against the paramyxovirus which causes this rash. This is another rash that is accompanied by a prodrome of symptoms, which include fever, cough, runny nose, and red eyes. Small red spots with gray centers may develop on the inside of the cheeks as well. The rash itself is red and raised, and spreads from the head toward the feet. There is no specific treatment for measles, and most patients recover with rest and supportive treatment.

Rubella: The MMR vaccine also covers rubella. This rash is somewhat tender, starting on the face and spreading away. In contrast to measles, children with rubella don't develop a high fever. They may have tender, enlarged lymph nodes as well as inflamed joints. Again, the treatment is generally supportive.

Fifth Disease: This rash is caused by parvovirus B19. It causes a "slapped cheek," lacy rash on the face, as well as an itchy red rash that starts on the arms and works towards the trunk and legs. It gets worse with sun exposure. It can potentially be complicated by arthritis, destruction of red blood cells, and inflammation of the brain, although these are all uncommon.

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