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Summer Rash Survival Guide

Rashes are more common during the summer months than any other season. It can be hard to distinguish between a rash, sting or insect bite. Keep this guide handy to help treat and soothe the most common rashes.

Girl scratching arm

Summer & rashes go hand-in-hand

Children are particularly prone to rashes during the summer months because they are outside more often, wear less clothing, and are exposed to more bugs and plants. To a parent, rashes, stings and bites can all look alike. Odds are your child won’t be much help in knowing how they got the rash either. Luckily there are some guidelines you can follow to help treat and soothe your child when they break out in a rash.
Parents should be advised to call their pediatrician for any rash that covers most of the body; is accompanied by swelling, fever, wheezing or difficulty breathing, or nausea; any skin reaction near the eyes or mouth; any very painful skin reaction; excessive itching; or muscle and joint pain after a rash develops.

Your summer rash aid kit

Stock up your medicine cabinet now with these items and you’ll be ready for just about anything that pops up on your child’s skin.
  • Calamine lotion for its cooling effect
  • Oatmeal-based lotions, creams and bath treatments to relieve itchiness
  • Hydrocortisone cream to reduce swelling and itching
  • Antihistamines to reduce itching, swelling and other reactions
  • Antibacterial creams to treat and protect rashes against secondary infections
  • Antibacterial soap for washing rashes
  • Children's TYLENOL or Children's Motrin to reduce pain and fever

Guide to common rash treatments

Prickly Heat: An itchy rash with bumps or tiny blisters filled with fluid (caused by the retention of sweat in pores) usually found in body creases around armpits, neck or diaper area. Child may also look flushed or act cranky.
  • What to do: Loose or remove clothing to cool skin and allow sweat to evaporate. Cool compresses and/or a tepid bath will help relieve symptoms. 
  • Prevention tips: Dress child in loose cotton layers.

Sun Rashes: Blisters or brown spots in the irregular shape of spilled liquid. Often occurs in spring or early summer before skin is used to being in the sun. Can also occur when taking certain medications.
  • What to do: A cool bath and acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can reduce pain and discomfort. 
  • Prevention tips: Apply sunscreen and avoid direct sunlight. If your child is on medication, ask if sun sensitivity is a side effect.

Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac, Poison Oak: A red, itchy rash that forms within three days of contact with the plant. Blisters may follow, breaking to form a yellowish crust. Itching can last up to two weeks. Poison ivy grows east of the Rockies; poison oak grows in the West; poison sumac grows in the Southeast.
  • What to do: After exposure, remove clothing and wash the area with soap and water. Once rash appears, treat with cold compresses, 1% hydro-cortisone cream and oral antihistamines such as Benadryl. 
  • Prevention tips: Cover skin with loose clothing when walking in wooded areas. 

Lyme Disease: A widening, reddish circle, two to three inches in diameter with a clean clear center, and several concentric rings. May also appear as a large rash 3 to 32 days after a tick bite. Rash will not itch. In some cases, fatigue, stiff neck and fever without a rash are the only symptoms.
  • What to do: Remove ticks immediately by grasping them with tweezers close to the skin and pulling up steadily. Once diagnosed, antibiotics are generally prescribed. 
  • Prevention tips: Wear long clothing when outdoors. Use repellents specifically formulated for ticks. Shower after being outdoors. Check for ticks daily, particularly in the following areas: Under the arms; In and around the ears; Inside belly button; Back of the knees; In and around the hair; Between the legs; Around the waist

Insect Bites: Bites from mosquitoes, flies or spiders often appear as hard, itchy, red bumps on the skin. Flea bites look like pimples and are often found in lines or clusters, usually around the ankles. Itching can be intense.
  • What to do: Apply calamine lotion, 1% hydro-cortisone cream, or a cold compress to numb the bites and reduce swelling. 
  • Prevention tips: Have pets wear flea collars. Use bug repellent to protect against insect bites. 

Impetigo: Begins as small red bumps that turn into blisters. Usually appears on the upper lip, around the mouth, on arms, hands, legs or feet. Blisters multiply, fill with pus, open and then form a yellowish crust on a hardened base. The crust may last several weeks, even if treated. Impetigo is highly contagious, erupting 1-10 days after initial exposure.
  • What to do: Wash lesions with antibacterial soap. Doctors may also prescribe a topical antibiotic to be rubbed onto lesions or put the child on oral antibiotics. 
  • Prevention tips: Wash and cover cuts. Impetigo is caused by bacteria invading an opening in the skin. 

Ringworm: A coin-size, scaling red ring on the body or scaling on the scalp with loss of hair. Caused by a fungal infection, ringworm is usually itchy and highly contagious.
  • What to do: Treat with topical, over-the-counter medications such as tolnaftate, cortimazole or miconazole. Scalp ringworm is usually treated with oral medication. 
  • Prevention tips: Children should not share hats, hairbrushes, towels or pillows. 

Hives: Itchy white or red bumps that can cover the entire body. Hives can be part of an allergic reaction to medication, food, plants, animal or anything touched or eaten. Hives can last a few hours or occur intermittently over weeks or months; they are not contagious.
  • What to do: A cool bath may be soothing. Antihistamines such as Benadryl can reduce hives. Watch for signs of a more severe reaction such as labored breathing and swollen lips which warrants a call to your doctor immediately. 
Prevention tips: Identify the substance that caused the reaction and avoid it.

Check out our app NP PEDS MD for further information and home care advice.

Baby girl with pony tail in white