Rashes and skin irritations are a typical part of childhood and are generally not a cause for concern. Most symptoms are innocuous and will disappear within a few days, but the worry is real for concerned parents who may fear the worst. Here are some of the most common rashes that affect children ages 1-15, with helpful advice for identification and treatment so you know when you need to take your child to the pediatrician.


Chickenpox has long been a common and contagious rash for young children in the United States, but has become increasingly rare in the past few years thanks to the varicella vaccine. The vaccine is administered to babies 12-15 months old, and a booster is given between the ages of 4 and 6. The vaccine is greatly effective, reducing the number of children who get the chicken pox rash to about 250,000 per year. Furthermore, children who have received the vaccine but still develop the virus typically exhibit milder symptoms and experience quicker recoveries.

Chickenpox usually starts with a fever, headache, sore throat, and stomachache, all lasting for a few days. The rash is red and itchy, and typically starts out as small red bumps that resemble pimples; it spreads to the entire body (scalp, arms, legs, torso, genitals, buttocks, and mouth) within 2-4 days, before developing into fluid-filled blisters. These blisters eventually break, become open sores, and turn into scabs.

This viral infection can usually be diagnosed and treated at home. Pediatricians recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever relief, as well as medicated oatmeal baths to soothe skin. Calamine lotion is a popular topical ointment that can be applied to dry skin (especially after an oatmeal bath) to dry out weeping blisters and reduce itchiness.



Roseola is a virus characterized by red bumps or spots and a high fever. The virus is spread by coughing, which is why it typically affects young children who don’t know well enough to cover their mouths when they’re sick. Children 12-36 months most commonly contract the virus, and most children have had it by kindergarten.

Roseola typically starts with a high fever and may also include mild cold symptoms, a reduced appetite, and general fussiness. The fever will usually last 2-7 days before breaking; this is then immediately followed by the development of the Roseola rash, which consists of pink or red slightly raised spots that appear on the trunk, and may spread to the face and limbs.

It is easy for pediatricians to diagnose the virus once the Roseola rash appears, which also coincides with the child no longer being contagious. Antibiotics won’t treat Roseola because it’s a virus, but over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can be administered to help with pain and fever. Parents should monitor children with Roseola because a small percentage will have a febrile seizure lasting 1-2 minutes. This isn’t dangerous, but is understandably scary for parents and children alike. Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes or your child has difficulty breathing.


Scarlet Fever

Scarlet Fever is a bacterial infection characterized by fever, red bumps and spots, and itchiness. Scarlet Fever is also known as scarlatina, and is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, which also causes strep throat. The scarlet fever rash often resembles a sunburn, with clusters of tiny red dots that first appear on the face and neck before spreading to the back, chest, arms, and legs. This itchy rash is often accompanied by sore and inflamed throats, whitish tongues, swollen glands, and a fever of 101+ degrees.

Scarlet Fever is spread through sneezing and coughing, and typically affects school-age children between the ages of 5 and 15. The rash itself is uncomfortable, but is not contagious. If you believe your child may have Scarlet Fever, contact your doctor at Woodburn Pediatric Clinic. We will do a quick and painless throat swab (much like those used to test for strep throat) to diagnose, and can prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria and ease the rash and fever. OTC medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen will also reduce fevers and ease the pain of swollen glands and throats.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of the above rashes will help you determine if your child has contracted something that can be treated at home (like chickenpox or Roseola) or whether it requires medical care (like Scarlet Fever). If you have questions about your child’s rash or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us today at Woodburn Pediatric Clinic.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.