Finding a rash on your child can be alarming – and for good reason.
A rash is sometimes a warning sign of a serious illness or allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Other times, rashes are completely harmless – a common and minor side effect of a virus or skin irritant.
So how can parents tell the difference? It’s no easy task, says Dr. Adil Arabbo, M.D., a family medicine physician with DMC Medical Group.
“Especially during spring and summer, you do see an increase in the rashes that come about, particularly when people are outdoors and kids are always exploring,” says Dr. Arabbo, who sees patients at DMC Advanced Family Care of Commerce. “I do think that causes more of a concern.”
A top worry among parents is whether a rash could be from an allergic reaction to food or something in the environment.
“They may have a higher sensitivity to a plant, pollen or different allergens that could possibly cause a generalized rash all over,” he says.
Unfortunately for parents, the way a rash looks – raised, red, bumpy, pindot, widespread or localized – won’t necessarily help to identify it.
“You really can’t count them; there are many types,” Dr. Arabbo explains. “More important to put it in context is understanding the history behind how the rash came out. That helps the parent and the physician understand the severity and the nature of the rash itself.”
A child with a mild rash could be reacting to a new type of soap, for example, but a child who develops a rash on the hands and feet along with ulcerations in the mouth could have hand, foot and mouth disease – a type of coxsackievirus.
“That’s a totally different context of how the rash came about, and the severity changes. You can’t just delineate the fact that there is a rash and assume how acute or benign it could be,” Dr. Arabbo says.
It’s important for parents to retrace their child’s steps. When did the rash begin, what happened before that and are there any other symptoms?
“For the most part, contact rashes are going to be self-limited, but treatment will speed recovery and decrease discomfort,” says Dr. Jeffrey Provizer, D.O., a family medicine physician at DMC Advanced Family Care of Commerce. “Some are going to be bothersome; some are not going to be bothersome.”
A child who has a rash along with symptoms like a sore throat, high fever, chills or vomiting, for example, should be seen right away. Other red-flag signs include trouble breathing or swallowing, lethargy, blisters or a rash known as petechiae that looks like tiny red or purple dots that don’t lose color when you press on them.
“You don’t see it very often, but it’s certainly something parents should be aware of,” he says, adding that any rashes with fevers should also be evaluated.
While a rash can indicate a serious illness, other causes can include exposure to poison oak or poison ivy or irritation from allergens in the environment. Insect bites are another possibility, along with sunburns. Parents might even mistake eczema for a rash.
“The other symptoms are kind of a telltale sign for us to understand whether someone’s acutely sick,” Dr. Arabbo says.
The first thing many parents do when they notice a rash is to treat it with lotion, topical Benadryl ointment or a cortisone cream – “good first-step measures,” Dr. Arabbo notes. Then they turn to the internet for information on what it could be.
“Sometimes they walk away with good, appropriate information and sometimes they walk away with a lot of misinformation,” he says.
That’s why consulting with the child’s doctor is so important when parents are unsure.
Parents should remember that there’s no wrong reason to bring your child in to be seen. Even if you believe you know the cause of a rash, it’s best to consult with your child’s physician to be safe.
“If there’s ever a question, you should get them into the doctor’s office,” Dr. Provizer says. “I think staying home when there’s a concern about a rash would be a mistake. If there’s a concern, make sure somebody who knows is able to take a look and evaluate it.”
To learn more about DMC Medical group or to make an appointment, visit dmcmedicalgroup.com.