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Common childhood rashes

11-minute read

If your child has a seizure, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.
If you think your child might have meningococcal rash, go to the nearest emergency department immediately.

Key facts

  • There are many different types of childhood rashes. Many are not serious.
  • If your child has a rash and fever, they should see their doctor.
  • If your child has a meningococcal rash, go immediately to the emergency department.

Meningococcal rash

If you think your child might have meningococcal rash, go to the nearest emergency department immediately.

You can read more about serious childhood rashes here.

Rashes with no fever or itching

Milia (blocked oil glands)

Up to 1 in every 2 newborn babies develop small white spots called milia on their face, especially on the nose. These are just blocked pores, and they’re not itchy or contagious. They usually clear up without treatment within a few weeks.

Erythema toxicum

Many newborns develop a blotchy red skin reaction called erythema toxicum, which can appear between 2 days and 2 weeks after birth. Flat, red patches or small bumps often first appear on the face and spread to the body and limbs. The rash is harmless, not contagious, and will clear after a few days or a week.

Baby acne

Some babies get pimples on their cheeks and nose in the first three months of life. These pimples normally disappear without any treatment, usually within a few months.

Nappy rash

Nappy rash is inflammation of the skin in the nappy area. It can look red, sore and inflamed. Nappy rash is usually caused by urine (wee) or faeces (poo) irritating the skin.

To avoid nappy rash, keep the nappy area clean and dry with frequent nappy changes and nappy-free time. You can help protect the skin by putting on a barrier cream such as zinc or soft white paraffin at each nappy change.

Persistent nappy rash can be treated with a medicated cream. Don’t use talcum powder or antiseptics to treat nappy rash. If your baby develops a fungal infection, you’ll need to use an antifungal ointment. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Erythema multiforme (minor)

Erythema multiforme is a rash triggered by an infection (most commonly herpes simplex virus), medicine or an illness. Your baby might feel unwell or have a mild fever before the rash appears. Red spots develop on the hands, feet, arms and legs and spread symmetrically across both sides of the body. The spots often become raised or blistered and then develop into classic target-like lesions.

Erythema multiforme is not contagious, and usually resolves without treatment in 3 to 6 weeks.

Keratosis pilaris (‘chicken skin’)

Keratosis pilaris is a harmless condition where the skin becomes rough and bumpy, as if permanently covered in goose pimples. These bumps most commonly occur on the upper arms and thighs. You can try several things to help the rash to clear up, including moisturising regularly.

Rashes that might be itchy

Eczema (Atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a very common skin condition affecting 1 in 3 Australians. It causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked, often in the creases at the knees and elbows.

Eczema commonly starts before a baby is 12 months old. Eczema follows a relapsing-remitting course. This means that there are flare-ups of the rash, followed by periods where there is no rash or a minimal rash.

Eczema management includes preventative treatment such as avoiding skin irritants, moisturising regularly and using bath oil. Treatment of flare-ups includes using steroid and anti-inflammatory creams.

Ringworm (tinea)

Ringworm is a common, contagious skin infection that causes a ring-like red rash with a clear centre. It commonly occurs on the scalp, feet and groin, but it can appear almost anywhere on the body.

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm, and is usually treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams. You should keep your child home from childcare or school until a day after you have started treatment to prevent spreading the infection.

Prickly heat (heat rash)

Heat rash might appear if your baby gets hot in a humid environment. The rash shows as tiny red bumps or blisters on the skin, which can be very itchy. Cooling your baby down and avoiding humidity is the best way to prevent heat rash, which usually clears within 2 to 3 days without treatment.

Impetigo (school sores)

Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the skin. It causes red sores and blisters that form a yellow crust. It is very common in children aged 2 to 6, and it is not usually serious in this age group, but it can be dangerous for newborn babies.

If your child has impetigo, you should see your doctor, who might prescribe an antibiotic cream, ointment or tablet. This should clear the infection within 7 to 10 days. Keep your child home from childcare or school and away from young babies until the sores have dried up, usually a few days after treatment starts.

Hives (urticaria)

Hives is a raised, red, itchy rash. It is common on the chest, stomach and back, as well as the throat and limbs, but it can appear on any part of the body. Hives usually disappears within a few days without any treatment. Antihistamines can be given to relieve itching. If the rash doesn't go away, you should see your doctor.

Hives isn’t usually serious, but it can be a sign of a more serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). If your child develops hives after eating, or together with other symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness or trouble breathing, you should seek urgent medical attention.

If your child has symptoms of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Pityriasis rosea

Pityriasis rosea is a mild skin rash that sometimes appears after a sore throat, cold or fever. It begins with a single pink or tan-coloured patch on the chest or back. Red, oval-shaped patches, which may be itchy, then appear on the chest or back and limbs over the next weeks.

The exact cause of pityriasis rosea is unclear, and it is not thought to be contagious. The rash usually clears up within a couple of months without treatment.

If you are pregnant, pityriasis rosea can in rare cases lead to complications. See your doctor if you are pregnant and have contact with a child who has pityriasis rosea.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a viral skin infection that is spread by skin-to-skin contact or by sharing swimming pool water, bath water or towels.

Molluscum contagiosum spots look like pimples and grow into round pearly white lumps, usually 2 to 5 millimetres in size. They can be itchy. They usually heal without treatment within 6 months, but sometimes longer.

Rashes with fever

Slapped cheek disease (fifth disease)

Slapped cheek disease is a viral infection that mainly affects pre-school and school-age children. It typically causes a bright red rash on both cheeks that spreads as a ‘lacy’ rash on the body and limbs. Occasionally, it causes a fever.

Slapped cheek disease is usually mild and clears up in a few days without treatment. The child is contagious before the rash appears, but not once it has appeared.

If you are pregnant and catch the virus, it may cause a type of anaemia in your unborn baby. It can also cause miscarriage. If you suspect you or your child has slapped cheek disease, you should avoid contact with people who might be pregnant.

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild but highly contagious viral illness. It causes a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and blisters in the mouth. It is not the same as the foot-and-mouth disease that affects farm animals.

The disease is common in childcare and kindergartens. Your child might feel unwell and have a fever and blisters on the hands and feet and in the mouth and in the nappy area. The illness usually lasts about 7 to 10 days. Children with hand, foot and mouth disease should stay away from childcare or school until all the blisters have dried up.

Hand, foot and mouth disease usually resolves on its own without complications. In rare cases, it can be more serious, especially if you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant. Complications can include infections of the brain and heart muscle and miscarriage.

Roseola infantum

Roseola infantum is a contagious viral infection that can cause cold-like symptoms and a high fever. The high fever may last for a few days. Roseola infantum can also cause some children to have a febrile convulsion (seizure).

Children with roseola infantum develop a rash after the fever has resolved. The rash looks like raised pink spots that start on the chest, stomach and back and spread to the limbs. The child is contagious before the rash appears, but not after. The rash usually lasts 3 to 5 days.

Febrile convulsions can look scary but are generally not harmful.

If your child has a seizure, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

When to seek help

Many babies develop a skin rash in their first days or weeks of life as their sensitive skin adapts to a new environment. Most rashes are harmless and go away on their own, but if your baby seems unwell, or if you’re worried, you should see your doctor. They can advise about the cause and whether treatment is necessary.

Whatever their age, you should take your child to the doctor if they have a rash and persistent high temperature, cold or cough symptoms or swollen neck glands.

Treatment of common childhood rashes

If you think your child might be contagious, they should stay at home. Keep them away from school, childcare and other children. You should also keep them away from people who are pregnant, or who might be pregnant, since some childhood infections can cause serious problems in unborn babies.

You can use paracetamol or ibuprofen (in babies aged over 3 months) to reduce fever — read the packet instructions carefully to ensure your child receives the right amount for their age and weight.

Your pharmacist can advise you on treating the symptoms of common rashes. For example, you can use over-the-counter creams to prevent itchiness.

If you are concerned about your child’s rash, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to talk to a maternal child health nurse, or call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to talk to a registered nurse. Alternatively, contact your doctor.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

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Last reviewed: July 2022

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Serious childhood rashes

A rash on your baby’s skin may indicate a serious condition, especially if they also have a high temperature, cough or swollen neck glands. Learn more here.

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