Childhood rashes


There are many different reasons why your child might develop a rash. Most turn out to be harmless and clear up without the need for treatment. The most common causes of rashes in children are discussed below. Trust your instincts – make sure you always see your Doctor if you’re worried.


Caused by a virus, chickenpox causes a rash of small, itchy red spots which turn into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters then form scabs which eventually drop off. The illness often starts with a mild fever or headache before the spots appear. Some children only have a few spots whilst others have them all over their body. 

Whilst there's no specific treatment for chickenpox, it does clear up by itself, usually within one to two weeks of the rash first appearing. To help soothe discomfort, apply calamine lotion or a soothing gel, available from a pharmacy. You can also consider paracetamol for pain and high temperature. Ibuprofen shouldn’t be used in chickenpox, unless advised by your doctor.

Make sure your child's fingernails are kept short, just in case they are tempted to scratch. This will help prevent the blisters from becoming infected (the most common complication of chickenpox) which can lead to permanent scarring.


This skin condition causes a dry, red, scaly, and an itchy rash, which may weep if it's very severe. It often develops behind the knees or on the elbows, neck, eyes, ears and scalp.

The most common form is atopic eczema, which affects about one in five children in the UK. People with atopic eczema usually have very dry skin, which may react easily to certain triggers such as pollen, pet hair, dust, extremes in climate, stress and anxiety or an infection. Actopic eczema often runs in families.

Treatment usually consists of emollients (moisturisers), which should be used every day to help keep the skin hydrated. Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments can be used to treat flare ups, to help reduce inflammation, swelling and redness. Both can be obtained from your pharmacist.

Keep nails short to avoid damaging and infecting the skin through scratching. If your baby has eczema, anti-scratch mittens may stop them scratching their skin. See your doctor as soon as possible if you think your child’s skin has become infected.

Make sure you also see your doctor if the symptoms are severe – they may be able to help you identify potential triggers for your child’s eczema, or prescribe higher-strength corticosteroids if necessary.

Hand, foot & mouth disease

A common childhood illness that causes blisters on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and ulcers on the tongue. It can be accompanied by a fever and a cold.

It's highly infectious, so keep your child off from nursery or school whilst they are not feeling well. They can usually return as soon as they’re feeling better. Give your child plenty of fluids and offer soft foods if eating and swallowing is uncomfortable. You can also consider giving them some age appropriate paracetamol or ibuprofen. Read the patient information leaflet for the correct dose or ask your pharmacist for advice.

Heat rash

An itchy rash, also known as prickly heat, which produces small raised spots that cause a stinging or prickly sensation on the skin.

It occurs when excessive sweating blocks the sweat ducts in the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. The trapped sweat leads to the development of a rash.

The best way to treat the rash is to cool the body down by bathing in lukewarm water, applying calamine lotion or cool compresses to calm itchy, irritated skin and staying out of the sun.

See your Doctor if your child’s rash doesn’t clear up after a few days or if you’re worried.


This is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection that causes sores and blisters. 

There are two different types. One which usually affects the trunk of the body (between the neck and the waist) where fluid-filled blisters form. These burst after a couple of days to form a yellow crust. The second type usually affects the area around the nose and mouth, causing sores which burst to leave a yellow-brown crust.

If you think your child has impetigo, see your Doctor who may prescribe antibiotics in the form of a cream or tablets, to help clear up the infection.


This highly infectious viral illness produces brownish-red blotches on the head or upper neck which then spread to the rest of the body. 

It can also be accompanied by a fever and cold-like symptoms.

It usually clears up in about seven to 10 days, but in some cases can develop more serious complications. 

Measles is now uncommon due to the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine which is given to children.

Call your doctor if you think your child has measles. Always phone ahead before visiting as the surgery may need to make arrangements to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others. 

Molluscum contagiosum

A painless but highly infectious viral skin infection. It produces clusters of small, firm raised pink or red spots which may have a tiny white or yellow head in the centre.

The rash is most commonly found in the armpit, behind the knees or in the groin. 

It usually clears up without treatment but as the spots can spread to other parts of the body, can take six to 18 months to disappear completely. Occasionally, the condition can persist for several years.

Nettle rash

An intensely itchy raised rash, also known as urticaria, which is triggered by an allergic reaction to different substances including certain foods, drugs, plants and insect bites or stings.

The rash can affect one part of the body or spread across large areas. 

It usually doesn't last long and the itching can often be controlled with over-the-counter products such as antihistamines. 

Slapped cheek syndrome

A viral infection, common in children aged six to 10, which causes a bright red rash to develop on both cheeks. 

Once the rash appears, it is no longer contagious. 

Slapped cheek syndrome usually clears in around one to three weeks.

A sign of something more serious?

A rash can also be a sign of a more serious problem such as meningitis. Symptoms to look for include:

  • Fever and aches and pains that worsen
  • A severe headache
  • A stiff neck
  • A dislike of bright light
  • A rash of flat, red purple spots varying in size from pinheads to large patches which do not fade when pressed with a glass

If you suspect your child has meningitis, take them to A&E immediately or call 999 for an ambulance.

Seek medical advice from your doctor if your child is unwell and has a rash and a high temperature. Make sure you also see your Doctor if you’re worried, or if your child’s symptoms don’t improve or are getting worse. 

Next steps

  • See your Doctor if you’re worried about your child
  • See your Doctor if your child is unwell and has a rash and a fever
  • See your Doctor if the rash doesn't improve or worsens, or if other more serious symptoms develop