Contact Dermatitis (Child)

Contact dermatitis is a skin rash caused by something that touches the skin and makes it irritated and inflamed. Your child’s skin may be red, swollen, dry, and cracked. Blisters may form and ooze. The rash will itch.

Contact dermatitis can form on the face and neck, backs of hands, forearms, genitals, and lower legs. Children may get it from exposure to animals. They may get it from soaps and detergents. And they may get it from plants such as poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Contact dermatitis is not passed from person to person.

Talk with your healthcare provider about what may be causing your child’s rash. This will help to rule out any serious causes of a skin rash. In some cases, the cause of the dermatitis may not be found.

Treatment is done to relieve itching and prevent the rash from coming back. The rash should go away in a few days to a few weeks.

Home care

The healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to relieve swelling and itching. Follow all instructions when using these medicines on your child.

General care

  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on how to care for your child’s rash.

  • Bathe your child in warm (not hot) water with mild soap. Ask your child’s healthcare provider if you should use petroleum jelly or cream on your child's skin after bathing.

  • Expose the affected skin to the air so that it dries completely. Don't use a hair dryer on the skin.

  • Dress your child in loose cotton clothing.

  • Make sure your child does not scratch the affected area. This can delay healing. It can also cause a bacterial infection. You may need to use soft “scratch mittens” that cover your child’s hands.

  • Apply cold compresses to your child’s sores to help soothe symptoms. Do this for 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a day. You can make a cold compress by soaking a cloth in cold water. Squeeze out excess water. You can add colloidal oatmeal to the water to help reduce itching.

  • You can also help ease large areas of itching by giving your child a lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal added to the water.

  • If your child’s rash is caused by a plant, make sure to wash your child’s skin and the clothes he or she was wearing when in contact with the plant. This is to wash away the plant oils that gave your child the rash and prevent more or worse symptoms. If a pet may have been exposed to the plant, wash the pet too. Oils can be transferred from your pet's fur to your child's skin.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. Call your child’s healthcare provider if the rash is not better in 2 weeks.

Special note to parents

Wash your hands well with soap and clean running water before and after caring for your child.

When to seek medical advice

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

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse. Babies may show pain with fussiness that can’t be soothed.

  • Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

  • New rash on other parts of the body. This includes around the eyes, mouth, or genitals.

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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