Folliculitis (Child)

Folliculitis is an inflammation of a hair follicle. A hair follicle is the little pocket where a hair grows out of the skin. Bacteria normally live on the skin. But sometimes bacteria can get trapped in a follicle and cause inflammation or infection. This causes a bumpy rash. The area over the follicles is red and raised. It may itch or be painful. The bumps may have fluid (pus) inside. The pus may leak and then form crusts. Sores can spread to other areas of the body. Once it goes away, folliculitis can come back at any time.

Folliculitis can happen anywhere on a child’s body where hair grows. It can be caused by rubbing from tight clothing. It may also occur if a hair follicle is blocked by a bandage. Shaving the legs or the face may also cause folliculitis. Folliculitis can result from a poorly chlorinated hot tub or whirlpool.

Sores often go away in a few days with no treatment. In some cases, medicine may be given. A small sample of skin or pus may be taken to find the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Home care

The healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal cream or ointment.  Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed. You may also be given an anti-itch medicine or lotion for your child. Follow all instructions when using these medicines.

General care

  • Apply warm, moist compresses to the sores for 20 minutes up to 3 times a day. You can make a compress by soaking a cloth in warm water. Squeeze out excess water. To prevent the spread of infection, be sure to wash this compress well after using it.

  • Don't let your child cut, poke, or squeeze the sores. This can be painful and spread infection.

  • Make sure your child does not scratch the affected area. Scratching can spread infection and delay healing.

  • If the sores leak fluid, cover the area with a nonstick gauze bandage. Use as little tape as possible. Then call your healthcare provider and follow all instructions. Carefully discard all soiled bandages.

  • Dress your child in loose cotton clothing. Change your child’s clothes daily.

  • Change sheets and blankets if they are soiled by pus. Wash all clothes, towels, sheets, and cloth diapers in soap and hot water. Don't let your child share clothes, towels, or sheets with other family members.

  • If your child’s sores are on the buttocks, discard wipes and disposable diapers with care.

  • Don’t soak the sores in bath water. This can spread infection. Instead, keep the area clean by gently washing sores with soap and clean, running water.

  • Wash your hands and have your child wash their hands often to stop the bacteria from spreading to other people. You can also use an antibacterial gel to keep hands clean. 

  • Folliculitis may be contagious. If your child plays contact sports, such as wrestling, they may need to refrain until after treatment.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider if the sores start to leak fluid.

Special note to parents

Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for your child. This is to prevent spreading infection.

When to get medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Bad-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years old, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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