What is dermatitis?

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Dermatitis in children: Overview

Dermatitis is the general name used for any rash or inflammation of the skin. Different kinds of dermatitis cause different kinds of rashes. Common causes of a rash include new medicines, plants (such as poison oak or poison ivy), heat, stress, and allergies to soaps, cosmetics, detergents, chemicals, and fabrics. Certain illnesses can also cause a rash. Unless caused by an infection, these rashes cannot be spread from person to person.

How long your child's rash will last depends on what caused it. Rashes may last a few days or months.

How can you care for dermatitis in children?

  • Do not let your child scratch. Cut your child's nails short, and file them smooth. Or you may have your child wear gloves if this helps keep your child from scratching.
  • Wash the area with water only. Pat dry.
  • Put cold, wet cloths on the rash to reduce itching.
  • Keep your child cool and out of the sun. Heat makes itching worse.
  • Leave the rash open to the air as much as possible.
  • If the rash itches, use hydrocortisone cream. Follow the directions on the label. Calamine lotion may help for plant rashes.
  • If itching affects your child's sleep, ask the doctor about giving your child an antihistamine that might reduce itching and make your child sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your doctor prescribed a cream, use it as directed. If your doctor prescribed medicine, have your child take it exactly as directed.

Dermatitis in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the rash.
    • Pus draining from the rash.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.