Diaper Rash

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Diaper rash facts

  • Diaper rash is very common in babies and is not a sign of parental neglect.
  • Diaper rash is most commonly a kind of contact dermatitis.
  • Diaper rash may become secondarily infected by bacteria or yeast normally present on the skin. In this case, topical antibiotic ointments provide a rapid and effective therapy.
  • Avoidance of skin irritants by frequent diaper changing provides the number-one preventative measure.
  • Effective treatments include frequent diaper changes, application of topical barriers (for example, petroleum jelly), and rarely topical antibiotic/antifungal ointments, or low-potency hydrocortisone cream. High-potency steroid creams, powders, and concentrated baking-soda/boric-acid baths and neomycin-containing ointments are to be avoided.

What is diaper rash?

Diaper rash is a generalized term indicating any skin irritation (regardless of cause) that develops in the diaper-covered region. Synonyms include diaper dermatitis (dermatitis = inflammation of the skin), napkin (or "nappy") dermatitis, and ammonia dermatitis. While there are a several broad categories of causes of diaper rash, contact irritation is the most common culprit. While diaper rash is generally thought to affect infants and toddlers, any individual wearing a diaper (for example, an incontinent adult) is a candidate to develop this dermatitis.

Is diaper rash a sign of neglectful care?

No, not at all. Parents often incorrectly feel that the rash is a visual representation of poor caretaking skills. However, parents need to understand that the basic causes for this common kind of skin irritation are still under active debate in the field of dermatology and that neglectful parenting is not among the possible factors. In the United States, diaper dermatitis represents about 10%-20% of all skin disorders managed by a general pediatrician. While the rash may develop as early as the first week of life, the most frequent time period is between 9-12 months of age. Studies have indicated that, at any point in time, between 7%-35% of children in this age range are experiencing such a skin rash.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/13/2015

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