As a parent, it can be very stressful when your little one develops the sudden urge to scratch thanks to the appearance of an unfamiliar skin rash.

Kids aren’t exactly exemplars of good hygiene practices, so it can be tough to tell whether it’s something to speak to a dermatologist about or if their skin is just sensitive to a new laundry detergent you’re trying out. It also doesn’t help ease your worries when many childhood illnesses can result in skin welts, blotches, bumps, and blisters.

Today, we’ll give worried parents insights into four conditions that might be the culprit behind your little one’s incessant itching, including characteristics to help you identify what you might be dealing with, other symptoms to look out for, preventative measures, and tips for helping your child get some relief from the discomfort. 

Chickenpox

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of childhood illnesses, chickenpox is caused by the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus. It’s most common in children but can affect adults in the form of shingles. Chickenpox spreads through direct contact with the rash or airborne water droplets from coughing or sneezing. 

Cases of chickenpox have fallen significantly since the introduction of the varicella vaccine, a two-dose immunization typically given between 12-15 months and 4-6 years. 

While chickenpox is usually mild, it can be much more severe in infants or children with a weakened immune system. Talk with a doctor if the fever spikes higher than 102 degrees or lasts longer than four days, or if the area around the blisters feels hot, painful, and swollen.

Identifying Chickenpox Rash

The chickenpox rash goes through three phases:

  • The first sign is the appearance of red, itchy spots (papules) on the belly, back, or face before they spread all over the body.
  • These red spots turn into fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) that last a day or two before they burst. 
  • As the broken blisters heal, they develop a crusty scab that takes a few days to heal.

Other Symptoms of Chickenpox

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Sore throat

Treatment and Symptom Relief

Calamine lotion and oatmeal baths can help relieve the itchiness, which is important because scratching can cause a more serious infection in open wounds. 

You should also ensure your child stays well-hydrated and gets plenty of rest. Medical treatment is available pending severity.

Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever, sometimes called scarletina, is caused by group A Streptococcus (GAS), the same type of bacteria that causes strep throat, releasing a toxin that results in the sandpapery rash. It’s most common in children between 5 and 15, but not everyone with strep throat will get scarlet fever. 

If scarlet fever isn’t treated, the infection can spread to other areas, resulting in throat abscesses, ear infections, rheumatic fever, and kidney issues. However, these complications are rare. 

Identifying Scarlet Fever Rash

The scarlet fever rash appears 1-2 days after the initial symptoms, like swollen lymph nodes and a high fever. The bumps are red or pink and start flat before raising slightly, creating a rough texture. It usually begins on the groin or neck but spreads from there and looks worse in body creases like the elbows and knees. 

Other Symptoms of Scarlet Fever

  • Throat inflammation
  • White streaks on the tonsils
  • Petechiae (red bumps) in mouth
  • Bright red cheeks with a white ring around the mouth
  • High fever
  • White coating on the tongue that turns into red, swollen “strawberry” tongue
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes on the neck
  • Nausea

Treatments and Symptom Relief

Scarlet fever must be treated with antibiotics to help your child’s body fight the infection and speed up recovery times. It also helps prevent the infection from spreading to other people as soon as 24 hours after the first dose. That said, your child must finish the entire course of medicine, even if they start feeling better, or risk more serious complications caused by lingering bacteria. 

As for the other symptoms, over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage the sore throat and keep the fever low. Use calamine lotion for the itching, and offer soft foods that won’t further irritate your child’s throat. 

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

If you have a child in preschool, there’s a higher chance that the cause of their rash is hand-foot-and-mouth Disease (HFAM). HFAM is exceptionally contagious, with the Coxsackievirus A16 enterovirus spreading through direct contact with the rash, saliva, mucus, and stool, making it most common in children under five who spend time in a childcare setting. 

While it’s not typically serious, it does cause flu-like symptoms, mouth sores, and a skin rash that can leave your little one feeling pretty uncomfortable. 

Identifying Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease

The HFAM rash is true to its name in that it primarily crops up on the hands, feet, and mouth, but it can spread to the buttocks. 

The lesions have a high variability in terms of appearance, from small white bumps to larger red blisters. The rash isn’t itchy but can be painful.

Other Symptoms of Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease

  • Flu-like symptoms including fever, sore throat, and general malaise
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite and interest in drinking 
  • Blisters inside the mouth

Treatment and Symptom Relief

Because HFAM resolves on its own, you can typically handle the symptoms at home with over-the-counter pain relievers to fight the flu-like symptoms. Dehydration is a concern due to painful mouth sores, so offer soft, easy-to-swallow foods and cool liquids that are easier for sore throats to handle.

Ringworm 

Despite its name, ringworm is a fungal infection called tinea rather than anything caused by a worm. It’s prevalent in children because it can spread through direct contact with other humans, animals, objects, or even soil, and children are less likely to regularly wash their hands or actively avoid contact with others who are infected.

Ringworm has different names depending on the part of the body it affects, including the scalp (tinea capitis), body (tinea corporis), feet (tinea pedis/athlete’s foot), groin area (tinea cruris/jock itch).

Identifying Ringworm Rash

The rash associated with ringworm is distinctive, appearing red and scaly around the raised edge but with a primarily clear center that may or may not have red bumps.

Treatment and Symptom Relief

Treating ringworm consists of applying topical antifungals or taking oral antifungals, depending on the severity of the infection. 

You’ll also need to disinfect your home systematically to eliminate the fungus, particularly the towels, clothing, bedding, stuffed animals, etc., of your child with the condition. It can quickly spread to the whole family just by using the same hand towel or hairbrush.

Final Thoughts

We hope any concerned parents found this resource helpful for gaining some insights into what might be the cause of your child’s skin rash, but remember that a professional diagnosis and treatment plan are always the safest options.

In most cases, skin rashes on children are treatable and, at most, uncomfortable, but you should always consult a dermatologist and/or your child’s pediatrician to ensure that there aren’t any underlying issues or complications that need to be addressed.

Next week, we’ll cover 5 more common childhood conditions that can cause a skin rash, including fifth disease, scabies, miliaria, impetigo, and pityriasis rosea.