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skin problems in summer

A Pediatrician’s Ultimate Guide to 8 Common Summertime Skin Rashes

Summer is synonymous with outdoor fun. And now, more than ever, we truly appreciate nature and understand the importance of getting outside. As parents, we are constantly on a quest to find fun experiences and great adventures for our children. We try desperately to lure our children away from the iPads, computers, and video games and into the great outdoors. Whether a fun hike, a picnic at the park, or a backyard activity, these outdoor adventures provide incredible memories and important lessons. However, they can sometimes leave us with itchy rashes and skin problems in summer.

During the summer months, there is a huge surge of parents in the emergency room for bumps, redness, and itchy skin irritations on their children. Having the knowledge of how to avoid these rashes and how to treat them can save you a trip the doctor. Today we are going to tackle some of the most common rashes and skin problems in summer and what you need to know to prevent and treat them.

8 Common Childhood Skin Problems in Summer

The top conditions I see and treat in the summer months are:

  1. Eczema
  2. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
  3. Impetigo
  4. Bug Bite Reactions
  5. Plant Reactions (Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac)
  6. Swimmer’s Itch
  7. Heat Rash
  8. Fever Rashes

So let’s take a closer look at what each of these rashes looks like and what you can do to prevent and treat these common rashes in children.

1. Eczema

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition that makes skin dry, red, and itchy. A child with eczema may even break out in a rash, as is common when dealing with allergies. While eczema primarily affects kids, some children may actually outgrow eczema as they age.

This condition does have a strong genetic component. However, it does not necessarily have to run in your family for your baby to be prone to eczema. There are certain detergents, foods, and other products that can cause eczema to flare up. If your baby develops persistent dryness and extreme peeling, it is important that you have him or her evaluated by their pediatrician.

Eczema Treatment for Kids

While there is no surefire cure, the best eczema treatment is to establish a solid moisturizing routine, which may include the following in addition to an eczema cream for kids:

  1. Use a humidifier – Put moisture back into the air. I recommend a cool mist humidifier.
  2. Use mild, unscented body wash – Scents and harsh chemicals found in some soaps can cause additional skin irritation.
  3. Stay hydrated – Drinking plenty of water can help prevent dry skin. Think of it as moisturizing from the inside out!
  4. Don’t forget lips – Don’t forget to moisturize and protect lips against the sun!
  5. Avoid infection – Dry, cracked skin is itchy. When kids scratch, bacteria can enter the skin, leading to infections. If you notice any redness or pain, call your healthcare provider.

2. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a VERY COMMON and contagious virus. I have to say that, over the summer, I get at least one case during every shift I work in the Pediatric Emergency Room. It usually starts with a low-grade fever (101-102 degrees), malaise, and a rash on the buttock. About 1 to 2 days after the fever, you will begin to see blisters on the hands, feet, and inside the mouth. There may also be a full body rash.

Many moms come into the ER with complaints of their child’s extreme crankiness and refusal to eat. Many kids won’t eat because their mouths hurt.

Treatment Options for HFMD

HFMD is a virus, so there is no medication that will take it away!

The most important thing is to stay calm, the virus usually resolves within a week. The key to treatment is to alleviate the symptoms with pain control medications and to allow the virus to take its course.

Hydration is also a very important piece of the puzzle. It is imperative your child drinks often and drinks something with calories. Pedialyte is the best for hydration, but Gatorade will work as well.

Since hydration is sometimes difficult due to pain, children’s ibuprofen and acetaminophen will be your best buds. If your child is refusing fluids, a dose of pain medication may alleviate symptoms long enough to hydrate. If your child has a severe case, you may alternate acetaminophen and ibuprofen according to your pediatrician’s instructions. Always consult your healthcare provider for proper pain management and dosing.

WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS! HFMD is contagious and is spread through nose and throat secretions (such as saliva or mucus), fluid from the blister, or feces. Make sure you wash your hands after changing diapers, too!

3. Impetigo

We all have bacteria present on our skin. Typically, bacteria do not cause any harm. However, when there is a break in the skin, bacteria can get underneath the skin and cause irritation and infection.

Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection mainly seen in infants and children. It usually presents as red sores around a child’s mouth or nose. These sores rupture and form a yellowish crust. With scratching, the sores can easily spread to other areas of the body.

Impetigo is more common in summer months when it can enter skin through small skin injuries, insect bites, or other itchy rashes.

Treatment for Impetigo in Children

Prevention is always key. Wash any scrapes, scratches, insect bites, or other cuts and wounds immediately.

If your child does get impetigo, it is usually not dangerous. And sores generally heal nicely without scarring. Sometimes, an over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointment or cream can be used to clear up the infection. But consult your pediatrician first, as antibiotics are generally recommended to help prevent impetigo from spreading to others.

4. Bug Bite Reactions

Although most insect bites and stings are harmless and do not cause any significant illness, bug bites still bring many parents to the emergency room with worries of sickness or infection.

Most of the time, a bug bite causes some local irritation. However, in rare instances, children develop allergic reactions and skin infections. In addition, ticks and mosquitoes can transmit certain illnesses.

Treatment for Insect Bites on Kids

The best way to prevent a raincheck for your great adventure, is to prepare ahead of time for insect bites on kids. Avoid using fragrant sprays and shampoos, as they can attract bugs. And always use an OTC bug spray with the following guidelines:

  • Do not use on babies under 2 months of age.
  • Only apply to healthy skin and outside of clothes. Do NOT use it on scratches or wounds.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents – this means they have been evaluated for safety and effectiveness.
  • Apply bug spray 15-20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every few hours as directed on the Drug Facts label.
  • Use a repellent that contains DEET, which is safety to use as directed and effective at keeping insects away. The best protection comes from a repellant that contains 30% DEET.

As a parent, it is also important to know when to worry and when to relax and simply treat bug bites in kids with OTC medicine. When used as directed, it is safe to give OTC anti-allergy medicines, such as ones with the active ingredient diphenhydramine, to help your child find relief. It is also safe to apply an OTC hydrocortisone cream or ointment on bites that aren’t scratched open or raw.

5. Plant Reactions

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac rash include:

  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Blisters

The rash often appears in a line across the skin. But poison sumac, poison oak, and poison ivy spreads anywhere on the body via clothing and scratching if the plant oils are not removed. Reactions usually develop within a day or 2 of exposure and may last up to 3 weeks.

In order for a reaction to take place, your child’s skin must come in direct contact with the plant’s oil. Once the oil is washed from the skin or clothing, spreading will not occur. The rash does NOT spread from open blister fluid. But avoiding scratching can help prevent other skin infections from occurring.

The best way to avoid a plant reaction is to know what to look out for and avoid those plants. If you take your child on a hike or an outdoor activity, familiarize yourself with the common poisonous plants and where they are found.

A good rule of thumb when looking for poisonous plants is the saying, “Leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy has three leaves to a stem. The leaves tend to be shiny and green during the summer time. Poison oak is more common in the western United States. These plants usually have three leaves per stem but can have up to seven per leaf group. Poison oak leaves will have jagged edges that almost look tooth-like. The sumac shrub has stems with 7-13 leaves arranged in pairs.

If you have younger children, inspect the parks they play in and have rash-causing plants removed.

Treatment for Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac

If your child comes into contact with these plants, wash all clothes and shoes in soap and water. Also, wash the exposed area of the skin with soap and water for at least 10 minutes after the plant or the oil is touched.

To discourage scratching, keep your child’s fingernails trimmed. Trimming nails will also prevent the rash from spreading if there is any trace oil left under the fingernails.

If the rash is mild, apply calamine lotion to cut down on the itching. Avoid ointments containing anesthetics or antihistamines — they can cause allergic reactions themselves. Another good option to reduce skin inflammation is one percent (1%) hydrocortisone cream.

While mild cases can be treated at home, talk with your pediatrician if your child is especially uncomfortable, if the rash is severe and/or isn’t going away, if the rash is on your child’s face or groin area, or if you notice signs of infection (i.e., fever, redness, swelling beyond the poison ivy or oak lesions).

6. Swimmer’s Itch

Swimmer’s itch or dermatitis presents with tingling, burning, and/or itching of the skin. Your child may develop small reddish pimples, and/or small blisters that appear within minutes or days after being in the water.

It’s important to know how to prevent swimmer’s itch. Although I melt when I see my daughter in an adorable bikini, it is important for kids to wear long sleeve swimwear. It not only prevents swimmer’s dermatitis by decreasing the exposure to chemicals in the pool but also prevents sunburn.

Treatment for Swimmer’s Itch

It’s also important to know how to get rid of swimmer’s itch. To help relieve itching, apply topical one percent (1%) hydrocortisone cream. You can also give an OTC oral corticosteroid or antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine, to help if your child’s itching is severe.

7. Heat Rash

Heat rashes are skin problems in summer that occur because of the hot, humid weather conditions. Pores become clogged and can’t release sweat.

Friction can be a cause of heat rash. Children may develop heat rash where thighs or arms rub together. Babies sometimes develop heat rash in skin folds of the neck, thighs, and arms or elbows. Symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy bumps
  • No sweat in the affected area
  • Skin inflammation and soreness

Treatment for Heat Rash in Children

Heat rash on kids is usually not serious and often goes away quickly without any treatment.

Call your child’s doctor if the heat rash hives do not go away after a few days. Your doctor may recommend special lotions to relieve itching. Try to keep your child’s skin cool and dry to help with healing.

8. Fever Rashes and Viral Rash in Children

Fevers followed by rashes aren’t just skin problems in summer, but it’s important to note them when talking about typical childhood rashes. Many viral infections begin or end with a rash or hives across your child’s skin. These rashes may present with or without fever and often appear across your child’s midsection or trunk, legs, neck, and face.

Three of the main culprits are roseola, HFMD (which we discussed above), and fifth disease, but there are so many viral infections that can cause a rash with fever in children.

Treatment for Fever Rashes

While most of these viruses can be treated with OTC medications at home, often there is no need to treat the rash unless your baby seems uncomfortable. A fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen works well to alleviate any discomfort from the fever.

If the rash or hives seem to bother your child, you can try a one percent (1%) hydrocortisone cream for relief. An oatmeal bath can also be soothing and comforting for your child.

If the fever persists or the rash worsens, trust your gut and consult your pediatrician.

Final Thoughts on Common Childhood Skin Problems in Summer

Sometimes no matter how well we protect our children against skin problems in summer, rashes still happen. So it’s a great idea to have a first aid kit handy for any irritations that may arise. is an incredible resource for all over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, if your child is experiencing difficulty breathing or facial swelling, it is important to have them evaluated immediately. If your child has a known allergy, it is imperative that you travel with their Epi-pen. Use these tips if your child shows signs of skin problems in summer:

  • Consider OTC allergy medicines (aka diphenhydramine)
  • Use an emory board to soften your child’s nails so that when they scratch in their sleep, they are less likely to break the skin
  • Cover up any insect bites or bumps that drive kids crazy with band-aids or clothing as a cue for them not to scratch (the cycle of scratching and itching can go on and on — avoiding the scratch helps the irritation calm down)

Be sure to always read and follow Drug Facts labels carefully. These labels tell you everything you need to know about the medicine, including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should use, and when you should NOT use the product.

Enjoy the rest of your summer – hopefully rash free!

~Dr. Katie

I’m proud to take part as a blogging ambassador with the CHPA (Consumer Healthcare Products Association) Educational Foundation and This post is sponsored! While I have received compensation from the CHPA Educational Foundation, all opinions are my own.

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