Children's Hospital Colorado

Kids and Summer Rashes: How to Deal

A close-up of a summer rash on a kid's neck.

Rashes are as much a part of the fabric of summer as pools or barbecues, and while they’re not much fun, they’re usually nothing to worry about.

Children’s Hospital Colorado general pediatrician Daniel Nicklas, MD, and Dawn Kallio, MD, a general pediatrician with Academy Park Pediatrics in Highlands Ranch, offer tips on a few common summer rashes, so parents can identify them, care for them and get kids back in the pool.

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Much like influenza thrives in winter, coxsackie, the virus that typically causes hand, foot and mouth disease, tends to circulate most during the summer.

“If you’ve never had it,” says Dr. Kallio, “there’s a good chance you will.”

Good hand-washing helps stop the spread, but generally it’s nothing to worry about. It usually starts as a fever and, as the fever dies down, appears as rashy spots in the mouth and usually on the hands and feet, sometimes on the bottom and groin.

The big concern, says Dr. Kallio, is that smaller kids sometimes don’t want to eat or drink because it hurts their mouth. Acetaminophen — and, in tougher cases, a little numbing mouthwash — should do the trick, and the rash should resolve within a week or two.

Heat rash

“It’s basically sweat glands getting clogged,” says Dr. Nicklas. “On a hot day, you might get a little buildup of sweat beneath the surface, which causes redness and itching.” Often it happens to athletes sweating and wearing heavy clothes.

Fortunately, the solution is easy: cool the skin. Get to some air conditioning and remove as much clothing as possible, and it should clear up quickly.

Pool dermatitis or folliculitis

Chemicals used to clean pools sometimes provoke a reaction in people sensitive to them that can cause a rash. Of somewhat more concern is that bacteria in pools, hot tubs and waterslides can sometimes infect hair follicles, leading to a spotty rash that might begin to look pimply after a few days.

This is called folliculitis, and kids are more prone to it because they tend to stay in the pool longer. Folliculitis normally clears up within a week or two, but it can cause lasting damage if it doesn’t. See a doctor if it lasts more than about 10 days.

Road rash

The combination of shorts, short sleeve shirts and toys with wheels often results in road rash — scrapes that cover a big surface area but don’t go very deep.

“The biggest thing is cleaning,” says Dr. Kallio, “which, unfortunately, most kids don’t like.”

A gentle wash with a clean towel and water, making sure to remove any dirt and debris, is generally all it takes to avoid infection and get the wound healing. Both Dr. Kallio and Dr. Nicklas recommend against antibiotic ointments, which can irritate the wound.

Instead, as much as possible, let the wound breathe. “It’s good for scab formation,” says Dr. Nicklas, “which is important for healing. For the scabs to solidify and go through the process they need to go through, they need air.”

It also pays to remember that road rash is one thing, but a head injury is another.

“If you’re doing something that makes you go faster than you can run, like riding a bike or a scooter,” says Dr. Kallio, “you should have a helmet on.”

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