Rash or Redness - Localized And Cause Unknown  
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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

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Impetigo of Left Cheek
Impetigo of Left Cheek

Diaper Rash
Diaper Rash

Fifth Disease
Fifth Disease

Ringworm Rash on Arm
Ringworm Rash on Arm

  • Rash on one small part of the body (localized or clustered)
  • Red or pink rash
  • Small spots, large spots or solid red
  • Includes localized areas of redness or skin irritation


  • Main cause: skin contact with some irritant
  • Other common causes: 7 rashes that you may be able to recognize are listed below. If you suspect one of them, go there. If not, use this topic.

Localized Versus Widespread Rash: How to Decide

  • Localized means the rash occurs on one small part of the body. Usually, the rash is just on one side of the body (e.g., occurring on 1 foot). Exceptions: Athlete’s foot can occur on both feet. Insect bites can be scattered.
  • Widespread means the rash occurs on larger areas (e.g., both legs or the entire back) or most of the body surface. Widespread rashes always occur on matching (both) sides of the body. Many viral rashes occur on the chest, abdomen and back.
  • The causes of widespread rashes usually are blood-borne (e.g., caused by viruses, bacteria, toxins, food or drug allergies that enter the blood stream).
  • The causes of localized rashes are usually something that has contact with the skin (e.g., chemical, allergen, insect bite, ringworm fungus, bacteria, irritants).
  • This is why it's important to make this distinction.

Return to School

  • Children with localized rashes do not need to miss any child care or school.

If not, see these topics

For an itchy rash:

For a non-itchy rash:

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Purple or blood-colored spots or dots that's not from injury or friction
  • Bright red area or red streak (but not sunburn)
  • Rash area is very painful
  • Age under 1 month old and tiny water blisters (like chickenpox)
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Severe itching or fever is present
  • Looks like a boil, infected sore or other infected rash
  • Teenager with genital area rash
  • Lyme disease suspected (bull's eye rash, tick bite or exposure)
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Blisters unexplained (EXCEPTION: Poison Ivy)
  • Pimples (Apply antibiotic ointment until seen)
  • Rash grouped in a stripe or band
  • Peeling fingers
  • Rash lasts longer than 7 days
Parent Care at Home If
  • Mild localized rash and you don't think your child needs to be seen

  1. Reassurance: New localized rashes are usually due to skin contact with an irritating substance.
  2. Avoid the Cause:
    • Try to find the cause.
    • Consider irritants like a plant (e.g., poison ivy), chemicals (e.g., solvents or insecticides), fiberglass, detergents, a new cosmetic, or new jewelry (e.g., nickel).
    • A pet may be the intermediary (e.g., with poison ivy or oak) or your child may react directly to pet saliva.
  3. Avoid Soap: Wash the area once thoroughly with soap to remove any remaining irritants. Thereafter avoid soaps to this area. Cleanse the area when needed with warm water.
  4. Local Cold: Apply a cold wet washcloth or soak in cold water for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours to reduce itching or pain.
  5. Steroid Cream: If the itch is more than mild, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream (no prescription needed) 4 times per day. (EXCEPTION: suspected ringworm)
  6. Avoid Scratching: Encourage your child not to scratch. Cut the fingernails short.
  7. Contagiousness: Children with localized rashes do not need to miss any child care or school.
  8. Expected Course: Most of these rashes pass in 2 to 3 days.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Rash spreads or becomes worse
    • Rash lasts over 1 week
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 12/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.