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How to treat your child’s skin rash

Many things can trigger rashes in children. While most rashes are not serious, there are some instances where medical help may be needed.

Some rashes in children go away on their own, but others require medical attention. Here’s how to cure common childhood rashes and when to see a doctor if your child has red, itchy skin.

The effective treatment of rashes in children depends on a few things, including your child’s overall health. Is your child exhibiting any additional symptoms or signs of illness? How soon did the rash appear? Is it localised or generalised throughout the body? How much does your child’s rash affect them? Is your child currently taking any medications? Has your child tried any new meals, soaps, or skin care products?

For the most part, these are general ways to treat rashes:

  • Treat bacterial skin infections with a topical antiseptic or antibacterial therapy. Although topical treatment is usually sufficient, oral antibiotics are sometimes required. Call your child’s doctor if the lesions are extensive or spreading.
  • Treat the irritation and rash with antihistamines (such as children’s Benadryl). Because antihistamines typically make youngsters tired, give them before bedtime. Antihistamine creams should be avoided because they can irritate the skin and aggravate the rash.
  • Cool (not hot) oatmeal baths will relieve an itching rash, and after the bath, apply calamine lotion or a baking soda solution to the rash. If the rash is not caused by a fungus, chicken pox, or bacterial infection, apply 1% hydrocortisone lotion to the affected area.
  • If your child has recently started taking a new medication and develops a rash, contact your doctor immediately.

RELATED: Common skin problems in children

When to see a doctor for a rash

Always call your child’s doctor right away if your child:

  • Has a high temperature, headache, sore throat, or vomiting.
  • Has a rash that is close to or affects the eyes.
  • Has an infected rash caused by bacteria or fungi.
  • Consumed food or started taking a new medication before the rash appeared.
  • Has a fever and purplish patches or tiny red dots that do not blanch, which could indicate sepsis or meningitis.
  • Has a bright red rash that is quite tender to the touch, which could indicate cellulitis.
  • Suffers from impetigo, a secondary bacterial infection of the skin.
  • Has the Lyme disease-associated bullseye rash (although Lyme disease is not endemic in South Africa).
  • Has hives, facial swelling, and breathing or swallowing difficulty, which may indicate an allergic reaction.
  • Has had a rash for more than three days, regardless of the cause.

How to avoid rashes

  • Avoid using harsh chemicals (soaps, detergents, fragrances) that can irritate your child’s skin and make it more prone to rashes. 
  • Dress your child in non-allergenic fabrics and ensure they only wear cotton underwear.
  • If your child has eczema, dry skin can exacerbate itching. Frequently using moisturising creams and oil baths will soften your child’s skin. 
  • Keep your child’s nails short to avoid scratching injuries and skin damage. 
  • Certain foods can exacerbate atopic eczema in children, so identify and avoid them as much as possible.
  • To avoid nappy rashes, change nappies frequently and always ensure the area is clean and dry before applying a new nappy.

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