Rash decisions: What can parents do about common skin irritations?

Although many rashes are not dangerous, they can be very distressing – either due to their appearance or because of associated symptoms such as itching. To make matters more complicated, different types of rashes in children can look alike. Even highly trained experts can have trouble telling them apart.

“The most common rash in children is eczema,” says Dr. Tracy Funk, a pediatric dermatologist at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “Roughly 20 percent of all children have some degree of eczema, and it is a problem that I treat every day in my clinic.”

Eczema represents a number of different skin conditions in which the skin is red and itchy, sometimes resulting in small, fluid-filled bumps that can ooze. The type of eczema that many children have is called “atopic dermatitis,” which is largely due to problems with skin barrier, dryness, and inflammation. Treatment for atopic dermatitis includes avoiding irritating substances on the skin, using gentle thick moisturizers, and using anti-inflammatory medications when needed.

Psoriasis, viral rashes, and infectious rashes such as molluscum are very common in children, too.

“Often a rash is diagnosed based on the appearance alone,” Dr. Funk said “If a rash is not specific in its appearance, we look at how long it has been present, how it has changed over time, if treatments make it better or worse, and if it is associated with any symptoms such as itching or pain. We also look at where it is and where it is not located, color, texture, scaliness, etc.”

If you’re concerned about a rash on your child’s skin, talk to their pediatrician or call OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at 503-346-0640.

The treatment of a rash will depend on its underlying cause and severity. Some go away by themselves and don’t require treatment. Others might be improved with topical moisturizers or anti-inflammatory medications. Some rashes even need oral or other systemic medications or light treatment.

With any rash, especially if it’s potentially infectious, it is recommended that you see your child’s health care provider to make the correct diagnosis and be properly treated. In the meantime, be sure to wash your hands well after touching your child’s rash. To keep your child from touching or scratching the rash, you can cover it loosely with a bandage.

This article was written by Nina Silberstein and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2019 Kids’ Health Annual magazine.