Small rash on child's neck
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Common toddler skin rashes: Part 1

Rashes and other minor skin disruptions are common in the first few years of a child’s life. Rashes are often harmless, and may be caused by an allergic reaction, viral illness, or a medical problem that affects the skin. In this article reviews a few common rashes you may encounter, but there are also many more. If you are ever unsure about a rash don’t hesitate to call your child’s provider.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact Dermatitis is the inflammation of the skin as a result of direct contact with a substance. There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant and allergic. Typically, irritants cause immediate inflammation of the skin. On the other hand, allergens cause a response in the body that can take days to show up. In these conditions, skin turns red and is often dry, cracked or itchy. When the rash is caused by an allergy, there might also be swelling or blisters present.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

An example of an irritant contact dermatitis is diaper rash which occurs when skin is exposed to a wet or soiled diaper over a period of time. Irritant contact dermatitis can also take the form of xerosis, a medical term for when skin reddens, dries out and sometimes even cracks in response to long term lip licking or thumb sucking.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD)

Allergic contact dermatitis happens when the skin comes in contact with a substance that the child has a sensitivity to. ACD is an inflammatory response and will continue to occur until the allergen is removed. The contact may be direct but can also happen indirectly (such as a soap used to wash their clothing). Common culprits are certain metals, scents or fragrances in certain lotions or soaps, detergent or fabric softeners, and pet fur. If you suspect an allergic reaction, find the cause and eliminate it to prevent further reactions. Depending on the severity of the reaction, the rash may resolve on its own, or it may require medications that can be ordered by your child’s healthcare provider.


Hives are a common allergic type of rash but are not the same as ACD. Hives are raised, red patches of skin that are itchy. These can come from insect bites, but can also be caused by an allergic reaction after eating certain foods, like peanuts, shellfish, eggs or tree nuts, or to a medication. In most cases, hives will go away on their own, (for example, when a mosquito bite resolves). However, if they come on suddenly and are accompanied by swelling of the lips, mouth or another body part (called angioedema) there is a chance this could be a dangerous reaction. Hives that appear along with swelling, trouble breathing, tightness in the throat, nausea and vomiting, cramps or stomach pain, or passing out should be a sign to call 911 or your local emergency services number.

Rashes with fever, or trouble breathing

Although many rashes are not serious, some rashes can be caused by infections or dangerous diseases like meningitis. Call your child’s healthcare provider if the rash covers a large part of the body, or if it looks like it hurts or is infected. A rash with a fever or with breathing problems may signal an emergency situation. Call your family’s provider and bring them to the nearest hospital for treatment.

  • “Patient education: Hives (The Basics).”  In: UpToDate, Post TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. (Accessed on May 30,2017). hives-the-basics?source=search_result&search=hives%20children&selectedTitle=3~150
  • Weston, W. “Contact dermatitis in children.” March 7, 2017. In: UpToDate, Post TW (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. (Accessed on May 30,2017).

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