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June 1, 2024

Eczema, Rashes, and Beyond: Understanding and Managing Common Skin Conditions in Children

Children’s skin is more vulnerable and sensitive to damage and irritation. Hence, one of the common issues faced by almost all children is skin rashes. From common rashes to eczema – rashes can be of various types. Knowledge of the common ones can be helpful for parents to provide immediate relief to their little ones as well as seek timely intervention.

Common Rashes in Children

Children are prone to various types of rashes, each with different causes and characteristics.

Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that affects millions of children and adults worldwide. It is characterised by inflamed, itchy, and dry skin. Eczema is mostly triggered by genetic factors, environmental allergens, or a combination of both. It is associated with a family history of allergies, asthma, or hay fever.

Eczema symptoms can vary widely from person to person and can change over time. Common symptoms include:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Brownish-grey or red patches, especially on the hands, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, feet, ankles and in the creases of the knees and elbows.
  • Small, raised bumps that may leak when scratched
  • Thickened, cracked, or scaly skin

While there is no cure for eczema, various treatments can help manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Treatment strategies typically include:

  • Moisturisers: Regular application of thick, unscented creams or ointments to keep the skin hydrated.
  • Topical corticosteroids: Prescribed by a doctor to reduce inflammation.
  • Antihistamines: To relieve itching.
  • Avoiding triggers: Identifying and avoiding allergens or irritants that cause flare-ups.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with a substance that causes an allergic reaction or irritation. Not only children but contact dermatitis can also affect people of all ages.

Contact dermatitis is broadly classified into two types: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Both types occur when the skin reacts to external substances, but the mechanisms and triggers differ.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

This type of dermatitis results from direct damage to the skin by an irritating substance. Common irritants include:

  • Harsh soaps and detergents
  • Solvents and industrial chemicals
  • Acids and alkalis
  • Prolonged contact with water
  • Certain plants (e.g., poinsettias, chrysanthemums)

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

This type is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance. The immune system recognises the substance as foreign and mounts an allergic response. Common allergens include:

  • Nickel (found in jewellery, watches, and belt buckles)
  • Fragrances and preservatives in cosmetics and skincare products
  • Latex
  • Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
  • Certain medications and topical treatments

Common symptoms

The symptoms of contact dermatitis can vary depending on the type and severity of the reaction.

  • Red rash or bumps
  • Itching, which may be severe
  • Dry, cracked, scaly skin
  • Blisters and swelling in severe cases

Treatment strategies

The primary goal of treatment is to identify and avoid the causative substance, provide relief from symptoms, and promote healing of the skin.

  • Avoiding the irritant or allergen that is responsible for the disease
  • Washing the affected skin with water and mild soap
  • Applying anti-itch creams or calamine lotion
  • In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe oral or topical steroids

Diaper Rash

Diaper rash, also known as diaper dermatitis, is a common condition that affects infants and toddlers. It causes discomfort and distress in young children but can be effectively managed with proper care and attention.

Diaper rash is mainly caused due to prolonged exposure to wet or dirty diapers, friction, sensitivity to diaper materials, or yeast infections.

Common signs

Symptoms can vary in severity.

  • Red, tender-looking skin in the diaper area (buttocks, thighs, and genitals)
  • Raised bumps or pimples
  • Severe cases may involve blisters, ulcers, or large red areas

Common treatment strategies

Treating diaper rash involves soothing the irritated skin, preventing further irritation, and addressing any underlying infections. 

  • Frequent diaper changes to keep the area dry
  • Applying barrier creams or ointments containing zinc oxide or petroleum jelly
  • Allowing the skin to air out by letting the baby go without a diaper for short periods
  • Using mild, fragrance-free wipes and diapers

When to See a Doctor

While most cases of diaper rash can be managed at home, it is important to seek medical advice if:

  • The rash does not improve within a few days of home treatment.
  • The rash is severe, with large areas of red, swollen, or blistered skin.
  • The baby develops a fever or shows signs of infection (pus, yellow scabs).
  • There are signs of yeast infection, such as a bright red rash with satellite lesions.

Heat Rash (Miliaria)

Also known as miliaria or prickly heat, heat rashes occur when sweat ducts get blocked, trapping sweat beneath the skin. This leads to inflammation and the characteristic red, itchy rash. Heat rash is common in hot and humid climates and can affect individuals of all ages, though it is particularly prevalent in infants and young children.

Common types & symptoms

Heat rash typically presents with a variety of symptoms, depending on the severity and depth of the affected sweat ducts.

  • Small, red or pink bumps, often appearing on the neck, shoulders, and chest
  • Itching or prickly sensation
  • In severe cases, the bumps can become irritated and pus-filled

Common treatment strategies

The primary goal of treatment is to reduce sweating and cool the skin to prevent further irritation.

  • Keeping the skin cool and dry
  • Wearing loose-fitting, lightweight clothing
  • Avoiding excessive heat and humidity
  • Using calamine lotion or cool compresses to soothe the skin


This is a bacterial skin infection that primarily affects infants and young children, although it can occur in individuals of any age. It manifests as red sores or blisters that rupture, ooze and form a yellow-brown crust.

Highly contagious, Impetigo is primarily caused by Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes. It spreads through direct contact with the sores or nasal discharge of an infected person.

Common symptoms

The symptoms of impetigo vary depending on the type of infection: non-bullous or bullous impetigo.

  • Red sores or blisters that burst and develop honey-coloured crusts
  • Itching and soreness
  • Usually affects the face, especially around the nose and mouth, but can spread to other parts of the body

Treatment options

Effective treatment of impetigo focuses on eradicating the infection, relieving symptoms, and preventing the spread.

  • Topical antibiotics applied directly to the sores
  • Oral antibiotics in more severe cases or when the infection is widespread
  • Keeping the affected area clean and covered to prevent the spread

Chickenpox (Varicella)

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It primarily affects children but can occur in adults as well. Chickenpox is characterised by an itchy rash with red spots and blisters. While it is typically mild in children, it can lead to serious complications, particularly in adults and immunocompromised individuals. It is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets or direct contact with the rash.

Common symptoms

The symptoms of chickenpox usually appear within 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus and include:

  • Fever, headache, and fatigue before the rash appears
  • Itchy red spots that develop into fluid-filled blisters, then crust over
  • The rash usually starts on the face, chest, and back, and then spreads to the rest of the body

Key treatment strategies

There is no specific cure for chickenpox, but treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, preventing complications, and managing the spread of the virus.

  • Keeping the child comfortable and preventing scratching
  • Using calamine lotion or oatmeal baths to soothe itching
  • Antihistamines to reduce itching
  • Keeping fingernails short and clean to prevent secondary bacterial infections from scratching
  • Vaccination is the best prevention

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a common viral illness primarily affecting infants and young children, though it can also occur in adults. It is characterised by fever, sores in the mouth, and a rash on the hands and feet. While HFMD is generally mild, it can cause discomfort and requires proper management to prevent its spread.

HFMD is caused by coxsackievirus and enterovirus. It is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets, saliva, and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Common symptoms

The symptoms of HFMD typically appear 3-7 days after exposure to the virus and can vary in severity.

  • Fever, sore throat, and loss of appetite
  • Painful red spots or sores in the mouth
  • A red rash with flat or raised spots on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks and legs

Key treatment strategies

There is no specific treatment for HFMD, and management focuses on relieving symptoms and maintaining comfort.

  • Relief from symptoms using pain relievers and fever reducers
  • Ensuring the child drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Soothing mouth sores with cold drinks or ice pops
  • The disease is usually mild and resolves within a week

Ringworm (Tinea)

Ringworm, also known as tinea, is a common fungal infection that affects the skin, hair, and nails. Despite its name, it is not caused by a worm but by dermatophytes, a group of fungi. These fungi thrive in warm, moist environments and can infect various parts of the body, resulting in different types of tineae. It spreads through direct contact with an infected person, animal, or contaminated objects.

Common types & symptoms

The symptoms of ringworm vary depending on the affected area of the body.

  • Circular, red, scaly patches with a raised border and a clearer centre
  • Itching and discomfort
  • Can affect the scalp, body, feet, or groin

Treatment options

Treatment of ringworm aims to eradicate the fungal infection and alleviate symptoms.

  • Topical antifungal creams or ointments
  • Oral antifungal medications in more severe cases of scalp infections
  • Keeping the affected area clean and dry
  • Avoiding sharing personal items to prevent the spread

Hives (Urticaria)

Hives, also known as urticaria, are a common skin condition characterised by raised, itchy welts or bumps on the skin. These welts can vary in size and shape and often appear suddenly and disappear within hours. While hives are usually harmless and temporary, they can be uncomfortable and may indicate an underlying health issue.

Hives are an allergic reaction to foods, medications, insect stings, or other allergens. Stress, infections, and temperature changes can also trigger hives.

Common symptoms

The primary symptom of hives is the appearance of raised, red welts or bumps on the skin.

  • Raised, itchy welts that can vary in size and shape
  • Welts can appear anywhere on the body and may change shape or move around
  • Can be accompanied by swelling and a burning or stinging sensation

Treatment options

Treatment of hives aims to relieve symptoms and address underlying causes or triggers.

  • Antihistamines to relieve itching and reduce the rash
  • Avoiding known triggers
  • Severe cases may require prescription medications or epinephrine injections

A Final Word

Knowing about common skin diseases and rashes in children, their causes, symptoms, and treatments can help parents and caregivers effectively manage these conditions. While some skin issues may go away on their own, others may need medical attention. Good hygiene, using the right skincare products, and avoiding triggers can help prevent and treat skin problems in children.

By staying informed and proactive, parents can ensure their children enjoy healthy, comfortable skin and a better quality of life. Always consult a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment tailored to your child’s specific needs.

Require expert advice or specialized treatment? Please arrange an appointment with our specialist.

Dr Nirmala Ponnuthurai
Consultant Paediatric Dermatology

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