What is diaper rash?

Diaper Rash

Diaper rash: Overview

Diaper rash (diaper dermatitis) is the most common skin problem in babies and young children. The skin may look red, raw, scalded, or burned. A diaper rash is uncomfortable. But in most cases, it's not a serious problem.

Diaper rash is usually caused by the skin staying wet, the diaper rubbing the skin, and skin contact with urine and stool. It often occurs in babies who sleep for many hours so the wet diaper is on them longer. Diaper rash may also be caused by a fungal infection or bacterial infection.

Adults may get diaper rash if they can't wash the genital area well or if they use incontinence briefs. These briefs can cause skin irritation. Or a person may be allergic to the perfumes in the material.

A diaper rash may also be a sign of abuse or neglect.

Most diaper rashes clear up within 2 to 3 days when treated at home. The rash usually clears up when diapers are changed more often, the skin is carefully cleaned, and over-the-counter ointments are put on the area. A diaper rash that becomes raw, oozes fluid, or bleeds is harder to treat.

Diaper rash

Diaper rash is skin irritation around the thighs, genitals, buttocks, or abdomen; the rash is red and may look like the skin has been burned or scalded. Diaper rash is the most common skin problem in babies and young children, but it can occur at any age if diapers or incontinence briefs are worn.

Most of these rashes are caused by the diaper rubbing against the skin, moisture, chemicals in the diaper, or bacteria in the baby's urine or stool.

Almost all babies develop diaper rash at one time or another. Usually simple changes in the diapering or cleaning routine will eliminate the rash. Occasionally a yeast infection causes the rash. If your baby or child has a yeast infection, check with your doctor before you treat it with any product made for an adult.

What are the symptoms of diaper rash?

Diaper rash is a red rash in the diaper area (around the genitals, buttocks, upper thighs, or lower belly). It may look like the skin has been burned or scalded. If the rash is severe, it may blister and peel or become raw, ooze fluid, or bleed.

How is diaper rash treated?

If the skin in the diaper area is very irritated, the doctor may recommend a mild steroid cream to reduce inflammation. An antifungal treatment may be prescribed for a rash caused by a yeast infection. If the rash is caused by a bacterial infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream or pills.

How is diaper rash diagnosed?

A doctor can usually diagnose diaper rash by asking some questions and looking at the rash. But most diaper rashes will go away with home treatment. A doctor visit may not be needed unless the rash continues or gets worse.

How can you care for someone who has a diaper rash?

Home treatment is generally all that's needed for most cases of diaper rash. At the first sign of a diaper rash, try the following steps:

  • Keep the skin dry. Make sure that the skin isn't in contact with urine and stool.
    • Change the diaper or incontinence brief every time it's wet or soiled. During the daytime, check the diaper or brief every 3 hours. You may need to change the diaper or brief during the night to prevent or clear up a rash. It's not unusual to change a diaper or brief 8 times in a 24-hour period.
    • Use a superabsorbent disposable diaper.
  • Gently wash the diaper area with warm water and a soft cloth. Rinse well, and dry completely.
    • Don't use any soap unless the area is very soiled. Use only a mild soap if soap is needed.
    • Don't use "baby wipes" that have alcohol or propylene glycol to clean the skin if the person has a diaper rash. These wipes may burn the skin and spread bacteria on the skin.
    • On adults, you may use a blow-dryer set on the warm setting to get the diaper area fully dry. But don't use a blow-dryer on babies or small children.
  • Leave diapers and incontinence briefs off as much as you can.
  • Protect the healthy skin near the rash with a cream such as A+D Ointment, Desitin, Diaparene, or zinc oxide. Don't put the cream on broken skin. It can slow the healing process.
  • If you use a disposable product, fold the plastic area away from the body. Don't put the diaper on too tightly. Don't use bulky or many-layered diapers or incontinence briefs.
  • Don't use plastic pants until the rash is gone.
  • Give more fluids to make the urine less concentrated.

If the diaper rash doesn't get better after several diaper changes, try the following steps.

  • Soak in a warm bath for 10 minutes, 3 times a day, if the skin is very raw.
    • For babies and young children, add 2 Tbsp (30 mL) of baking soda to a baby tub, a basin of warm water, or a bathtub. Remember, don't bathe a baby until the umbilical cord has fallen off. And never leave a child alone while the child is in the bath.
    • Have older children and adults sit in a bathtub with a few inches of warm water, or use a sitz bath.
  • If you use a disposable product, change brands or switch to a cloth product. Try a superabsorbent disposable diaper or brief with absorbent gelling material (AGM), which pulls moisture away from the skin. Some people are less likely to get a rash with one diaper product than another.
  • If you use a cloth product, switch to a disposable product. The cloth or the products used to clean the cloth diaper may be causing the rash.
  • If you use cloth and don't want to switch to a disposable product, change detergents.
    • Rinse diapers or briefs twice when you wash them.
    • Use vinegar in the final rinse at a strength of 1 fl oz (30 mL) vinegar to 1 gal (4 L) of water.

When treating a diaper rash:

  • Don't use a nonprescription adult vaginal yeast medicine on a baby or child. Check with your doctor before you use any product made for an adult on a baby or child.
  • Adults can use a nonprescription adult yeast medicine to treat diaper rash. Follow the instructions on the package.
  • Don't use baby powder while a person has a rash. The powder can build up in the skin creases and hold moisture. This may help bacteria grow and cause an infection.
  • Don't use cornstarch on a rash in the diaper area. Cornstarch also allows bacteria to grow.

What is diaper rash?

Diaper rash (diaper dermatitis) is skin irritation in the diaper area. It's usually caused by wearing wet or dirty diapers too long, which lets urine and stool irritate the skin. Diaper rash is common in young children, but it can occur at any age if diapers or incontinence briefs are worn.

Diaper rash in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby has pimples, blisters, open sores, or scabs in the diaper area.
  • Your baby has signs of an infection from diaper rash, including:
    • 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 baby's rash is mainly in the skin folds. This could be a yeast infection.
  • Your baby's diaper rash looks like a rash that is on other parts of their body.
  • Your baby's rash is not better after 3 days of treatment.

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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.