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Rashes on Children: When Should I Worry?

Childhood rashes are common, but that doesn’t mean they don’t freak you out any less as a parent. While most rashes do get better on their own, you may not be sure, especially if your child’s rash is accompanied by a fever or other symptoms.

Rashes can be caused or associated with a variety of conditions, from mild conditions like heat rashes to serious conditions like meningitis,” said Nurul Hariadi, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Banner Health Center. “Because of this, it’s important to know which should prompt a call to your child’s doctor or a visit to the ER.”

A good rule of thumb to remember is that a local rash is most likely caused by skin contact, exposure to certain materials or substances, and sometimes germs, such as diaper rash or an insect bite. A widespread rash is usually associated with a cause that affects the entire body such as measles.

Because many illnesses cause rashes, we put together a list of eight of the most common ones that occur in children, signs and symptoms that should prompt a visit to your child’s doctor or the ER, and an illustrative guide to keep on hand for quick reference.

8 common types of childhood rashes


Roseola is one of the most common viral infections among children 6 months to 3 years of age. It starts with a fever for 2 to 3 days, followed by a rash after the fever is gone. Once the rash appears, your child is usually fine and doesn’t require treatment.

Fifth disease

Fifth disease, often called slapped cheek disease, is a common childhood infection caused by parvovirus. The symptoms are usually mild and include fever, upset stomach, headache and a rash that looks like the cheeks were slapped. It may be followed by a lacelike rash on the stomach, legs or arms. Older children or adults may experience joint pain. The virus clears up on its own, but your child may require pain reliever to treat symptoms.

Hand, foot & mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses and is a self-limiting disease, which means it will resolve without specific medication. It is spread by saliva, nasal mucus or fluid from an erupted blister. It causes tiny bumps, blisters or sores on the hands, feet, diaper area and in the mouth. It may also be associated with a fever and sore throat. If your child is able to take and keep fluids down and is active, you may observe them at home after discussing it with their doctor or triage nurse.


Impetigo is one of the most common superficial bacterial skin infections in children. It usually appears as red bumps on the face that develop honey-colored crusts when they burst. Depending on the severity, it may require an antibiotic that is applied to the skin or taken by mouth.


MRSA skin infection is caused by a type of Staphylococcus bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus that unfortunately causes infections that don’t respond well to antibiotics that treat less resistant S. aureus. Therefore, your child may need a different antibiotic. Recurrent boils can form and may require incision and drainage. Your child’s doctor may need to send the pus to a lab to check for MRSA.


Ringworm, or tinea corporis, is one of the most common fungal skin infections in children. It is scaly, red and itchy and may sometimes look like eczema. Depending on the location (skin versus scalp or nails), it may need antifungal medication that is applied on the skin or taken by mouth.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever, or scarlatina, is a bacterial infection that develops in some children who have Strep throat. It is most common in children 5 to 15 years old. Symptoms include a scarlet-colored rough rash that covers most of the body and feels like sandpaper, sore throat and high fever. Antibiotic is given to treat the illness.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis or eczema is not an infectious disease, it is a chronic skin condition. About 5% to 20% of children may have it, but many outgrow it by late childhood. Depending on age, it can appear on different areas of the body. Common symptoms are red, inflamed and dry, itchy skin patches. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms and age.

Child Rashes Infographic

Got questions? Call your doctor

If your child has an unexplained rash, don’t hesitate to call their doctor. It’s better to talk to them about a rash (even if it ends up being nothing serious) than missing symptoms of a serious illness. To schedule an appointment, visit

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Parenting Children's Health Infographics