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What rash is this?

By Hannah Fox

Unsure about a rash or skin condition that's appeared on your baby or child? Take a look at the photos below to find out what they may be

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Spotting a rash or skin condition on your baby or child can be very worrying if you’re not sure what it is. Many are usually harmless but some can be serious so it’s important to know what to do if you spot one.

Many rashes are accompanied by other symptoms including fever, so it’s also worth checking if your little one has a temperature. If you’re unsure about what constitutes a high temperature in your child, read our guide to taking your child’s temperature.

If you’re ever worried about a rash, the safest thing is to visit your GP or practice nurse for advice on what might be causing it. If you’re pregnant, and have come into contact with anyone with a virus, you should also speak to your doctor.

Take a look at our digital thermometer reviews for suggestions on what different brands can offer.

Chicken pox 

Chicken pox is a very infectious virus which is quite common. The rash is usually the first symptom, starting as little red spots that can turn into blisters. These can be extremely itchy.

Your child may also develop a fever, get aches and pains and lose their appetite. Chicken pox can’t be cured with antibiotics as it’s a virus. 

You’ll need to ensure your child is well hydrated and gets plenty of rest. Treat your child with baby paracetamol such as Calpol, but avoid ibuprofen as it can cause skin reactions in people with chicken pox.

Calamine lotion has been traditionally used to soothe any itching caused by the spots, but it contains zinc oxide, which has a tendency to dry out spots and can make them feel itchier. Look out for over-the-counter gels and foams for treating chicken pox scabs, as they're also easier to apply, less messy and won't dry spots out. 

You can also give your child an anti-histamine to ease itching (so long as they're aged over 12 months).

Eczema 

Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy patches of skin that can become red, cracked and inflamed.

You’re most likely to spot it on the hands, insides of the elbows, on the backs of knees, and on the face and scalp, although it can appear anywhere on the body.

Eczema can be treated with over-the-counter creams, but if this is the first time you’ve spotted it in your child (it can flare up from babyhood), then you may want to start with a visit to your GP.

Hand, foot and mouth disease 

Despite the name sounding rather agricultural, hand foot and mouth disease is actually a pretty common childhood illness (and has nothing to do with the foot and mouth disease that affects farm animals).

It’s caused by a virus and although the tell-tale signs are the little blister-like sores that appear on the hands, feet and in the mouth, the first signs may be a sore throat, high temperature and lack of appetite.

Like many viruses, treatment involves plenty of fluids and rest – it should get better in 7-10 days. If your child’s symptoms still haven’t improved, you should take them to your GP.

Hives 

A hives rash causes red, raised, itchy bumps. They can be in large patches or appear as red spots. The medical name for hives is urticaria.

In most cases, hives is caused by an allergic reaction to certain foods, medicines or insect bites or stings.

Hives can be treated with damp compresses and cooling baths. You can also talk to a pharmacist or GP about antihistamines that are suitable for children.

Impetigo 

Impetigo is an infectious bacterial skin condition, and while anyone can get it, it’s very common in babies and young children.

It causes red, fluid-filled blisters that burst and form a yellow-ish scab, sometimes likened to a cornflake. Your baby may also have a temperature and swollen glands in their face or neck.

Impetigo can be treated with an antibiotic cream prescribed by the doctor and should get better in 7-10 days. You should gently wash the scabs, dress your child in loose cotton clothes and trim fingernails to reduce the risk of scabs being picked off.

Measles 

Measles is a highly infectious virus. It’s less common than it used to be because lots of children are vaccinated against it when they have the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jabs. However, cases usually occur in children who did not have the jabs and there has been a recent increase in cases in the past few years.

The measles rash, which is red and blotchy, usually occurs a few days after other symptoms start to occur. These include runny nose, sneezing, a high temperature, grey-white spots on the inside of the cheeks and sore, red eyes.

If you’re worried your child has measles, contact your GP. While there’s no treatment for the measles virus, the doctor can make arrangements to reduce the risk of the infection spreading. Measles symptoms appear around 10 days after you’re infected, so it’s important to alert people your child may have been in contact with, including nursery and school.

Meningococcal septicaemia 

Meningococcal septicaemia is a very serious illness that can cause skin and tissue damage, bone growth problems, organ failure and limb loss if not treated quickly. The illness can be treated with antibiotics.

It’s caused by meningococcal bacteria in the blood releasing endotoxins (poisons) that cause widespread damage to the body, including to blood vessels in the organs, tissues and skin. The rash associated with septicaemia is caused by blood leaking into the tissues under the skin and it’s very distinctive. It looks reddish-purple (almost like a bruise) and won’t disappear if you roll a glass over it.

Your child may already have other symptoms such as fever, vomiting, cold hands and feet, rapid breathing, aversion to bright lights, a stiff neck, becoming floppy or unresponsive and an unusual cry or moaning. Don’t wait for a rash – if you’re worried about any of these other symptoms dial NHS 111 (or 0845 4647 in Wales) or go to your doctor. If you can’t speak to a doctor, go straight to A&E.

Nappy rash 

Red, inflamed skin around your baby’s bottom and genitals is usually a sign of nappy rash. It may also be spotty. It can be uncomfortable for your baby, although mild nappy rash may not bother them too much.

Nappy rash is very common, and is caused by moisture from urine and faeces irritating their delicate skin, particularly the ammonia found in your baby’s urine.

There are plenty of over-the-counter nappy creams to help ease sore skin and also act as a barrier to moisture to prevent it happening. You should also give your baby some ‘nappy-free’ time each day. Place them on a waterproof mat in case any accidents occur.

Prickly heat 

Heat rash, or prickly heat as it’s often known, is a largely harmless but uncomfortable condition caused by sweat glands becoming blocked, which traps sweat and leads to a rash.

Babies may get heat rash because they can't control their temperature as well as adults and children. The main symptoms are small red spots, an itchy, prickly feeling and redness and mild swelling.

Your best course of action is to keep the skin cool by applying a damp cloth, ensure your baby or child stays well hydrated, and wear lightweight cotton clothing.

Ringworm 

Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s actually caused by a fungal infection.

A ringworm rash can appear in a circular pattern (hence the ‘ring’ part of the name), and be red or silvery in appearance. It may also be scaly, dry, itchy or swollen.

Ringworm can be identified by a pharmacist, who can provide an over-the-counter anti-fungal cream. The pharmacist can also recommend if you should also see a GP.

Roseola 

Not to be confused with rubeola (which is what causes measles), roseola is a viral infection that causes a rash. It’s most common in babies, toddlers, and young children, although adults can also catch it.

Your child may develop a fever, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhoea, swollen glands and eyelids and lose their appetite. A few days later, a rash will appear, starting on the back and torso and spreading to the face, neck and arms. Some children may have fits, known as febrile seizures, which are brought on by the high temperature.

Treatment for roseola is plenty of rest and rehydration. If the fever is making your child uncomfortable, you can give infant paracetamol. You can keep your doctor alerted to the illness, but there’s no medication that can help. However, if your child has a febrile seizure, ring your doctor.

Scabies 

Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites that burrow into the skin to lay eggs, causing a bumpy, itchy, blister-like rash. It can affect anyone including children and babies. The mites are tiny – less than half a millimetre – so you may only see them as dots on the skin.

You should take your child to the doctor if you’re worried they have scabies, as it can be treated with a cream. It’s very infectious and so the whole family will need to be treated, as the rash can take up to eight weeks to appear.

You should also wash all bedding at 50°C to remove traces of mites and put clothing that can't be washed in a bag and seal it for three days until the mites die.

Scarlet fever 

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection which causes a bright red rash that feels rough to the touch – like sandpaper. You may also get a temperature, swollen glands, and a tongue that initially appears white, and then takes on a swollen ‘strawberry-like’ appearance.

The symptoms last for about a week, but you’re infectious for up to seven days before symptoms appear. In the past, scarlet fever was a serious illness, but thanks to the advent of antibiotics it's now less common and easier to treat.

You should always alert your doctor if you’re worried your child might have scarlet fever.

Slapped cheek syndrome (Fifth disease) 

Slapped cheek syndrome gets its name from the bright red rash that appears on the cheeks of those affected, often looking like the person has been slapped. It’s caused by a virus called parvovirus B19.

The red cheeks aren’t usually the first sign of the illness – your child may have a high temperature, runny nose, sore throat and headache. After a couple of days, the cheek rash will appear next, and then your child may develop a spotty rash across their body, which is raised and itchy.

The rashes can take a few weeks to disappear, and as it’s a virus, there’s no medication for it, so the key treatment is rest, fluids and infant paracetamol if your child seems uncomfortable or in pain.

If you're pregnant and come into contact with anyone with slapped cheek syndrome, visit your GP or midwife immediately. The virus can be very dangerous for the unborn baby.

  • This article has been checked by Dr Donald Macgregor, a consultant paediatrician, senior lecturer in child health, and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
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