Childhood rashes

Key points about childhood rashes

  • It can be scary when your child develops a rash, especially if they’ve got a temperature and are feeling miserable. Sometimes it’s hard to know if you should take them to see your GP or if they just need to rest at home.
  • It can be reassuring to learn that childhood rashes are common – often they’re caused by a virus and disappear after a few days without treatment.
  • Here’s what to do if your child has a rash and when to call an ambulance.
Happy Māori mum holds young daughter up in the air
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Meningitis is a serious disease that needs immediate medical attention. It causes children to become very sick very quickly. A meningitis rash starts out looking like small pin pricks, later developing into red or purple bruise-like blotches. Tip: If you press the side of a clear glass against skin a meningitis rash doesn’t fade.

Call 111 if you think your child has meningitis.

If your child is very young, has a high temperature or isn’t eating and drinking, take them to see your family doctor (GP). Some rashes, such as cellulitis and impetigo, are caused by a bacterial infection and need to be treated with antibiotics.

It's also best to see your GP if your child’s rash hasn’t disappeared within a few days, or if you think it’s getting worse. If your medical centre is closed, you can phone the government’s free 24/7 health advice line, Healthline, on 0800 611 116 for advice from a registered nurse.

Highly infectious diseases such as measles and chickenpox also cause a rash. If you think your child has either of these it’s best to see your GP.

Rashes caused by chronic conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or allergies need ongoing support and treatment, which is also best managed by your GP.

Some rashes such as ringworm, scabies and hives can be treated with over-the-counter medications from your pharmacy. In some cases, you may not need to see your GP unless your child is under two or the rash doesn’t get better with non-prescription medicines.

If your child is eating and drinking, and generally seems okay, often the best treatment is to be at home. Make sure they drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.

You can give them paracetamol if they’re feeling unwell. Ask your pharmacist how much you can give and how often.

Rashes caused by viruses such as hand, foot and mouth and slapped cheek often get better on their own. However, complications such as mouth ulcers or severe itching might need a trip to your GP.

Most nappy rash can be improved with a few simple measures but see a doctor if the rash does not improve after a few days, if it spreads beyond the nappy area or if there are signs of infection.

Remember, trust your instincts. Seek medical help if you think your child is unwell or you need advice and reassurance. 


Skin problems in children(external link)(external link) Workbase Education Trust and Ministry of Health, NZ, 2013

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