Your kid didn’t look like that three hours ago.

Here to talk about rashes — and what to do when one pops up on your child — is pediatrician Dr. Anna Wood of Novant Health Waverly Pediatrics & Primary Care in Charlotte.

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Dr. Anna Wood
Dr. Anna Wood

What is a rash, and why do they happen?

A rash is when the skin looks inflamed or more red than usual. It may also look irritated or have bumps. In people of color, a rash may not appear bright red, but you’ll notice a change in skin tone.

The most frustrating part of rashes is that they can be caused by almost anything: a bacteria, a virus, a fungus, a reaction to starting a new medication, an allergic reaction to something outside, or to something like clothes, detergent, personal care products like lotion or shampoo, or food. You can even get a rash from being exposed to the sun or heat.

How do you know what’s causing a particular rash, then?

History is most important with any kind of rash. Contact dermatitis or an allergic rash can look very similar to a viral rash, but if the parent is saying, “She’s had a fever and a snotty nose, and then she got this rash,” this is very different from, “We tried a new soap brand and it appeared after that.” It’s the history that leads me down each category. And there are a lot of categories to consider! (See the end of this article for more details on the most common rashes and their categories.)

Are some kids more prone to rashes than others?

Yes — there are certain kids who have much more sensitive skin. I think of these as kids who have more “allergic tendencies.” They’re kids with asthma, seasonal allergies, and/or eczema. Their skin reacts a lot quicker because their immune system overreacts to everything.

When I see a rash on my child, what should I do?

Try not to go to Google or the internet. The internet will take you down some very wild rabbit holes.

Instead, take a picture in good lighting of the rash. Our phones are so great because they record the date and time of the picture. If it’s spreading, that can tell us how quickly it’s growing. It’s very helpful to see the evolution or changes of the rash.

Then, you can send that picture and any details you’ve noticed to your child’s pediatrician on MyChart. If the rash goes away, I still appreciate a follow-up message saying it has resolved. With a photo, we might be able to avoid a visit, and if we need one, we can streamline it because I already have an idea of what’s going on.

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