- Symptoms & Signs
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 the following:
- Diaper dermatitis (dermatitis = inflammation of the skin)
- Napkin (or "nappy") dermatitis
- Ammonia dermatitis
While there are 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 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.
What is the main cause of diaper rash?
There are several categories of causes for this dermatitis. First and foremost is "irritant" or "contact" dermatitis. Skin involvement may vary from mild redness (similar to a sunburn) to erosion of the top layers of the skin. A characteristic differential point of contract diaper dermatitis from other causes of diaper rash is that it rarely involves the skin fold
Skin infections compose the next most common category of diaper rash. Bacteria (staph and strep) and yeast/fungi (Candida) are common causes of diaper rash. Generally, both of these types of infections tend to result from a disruption of skin integrity and overwhelm the natural defense mechanisms of skin in this diaper region. Staph and strep bacterial infections are commonly termed impetigo. Classic descriptions of impetigo include small (1-2 mm) tiny blisters (vesicles) and pustules that tend to easily rupture leaving multiple erosions in a sea of generalized skin irritation.
Candida diaper dermatitis also has several distinguishing patterns. The rash is characterized by zones of bright red skin with a series of discrete 2-4 mm "satellite" lesions at the borders of the confluent irritated skin. In contrast to contact dermatitis, Candida is generally only found in the skin folds' creases and often around the anal region. Infectious causes of diaper dermatitis can generally be diagnosed by visual inspection alone. If confusion exists, laboratory studies of swabs of the involved areas may be obtained.
Allergic reactions are a less common cause of diaper rash. Commonly proposed allergens are fragrances and components of the diaper and wipes. These regions often have well-defined zones of redness with superficial vesicles and erosions. If the diagnosis of allergic skin reaction is suspect, skin-patch testing may be done to identify the offending agent. This is rarely necessary.
In addition to the commonplace causes of diaper rash, there are also a few very unusual causes of this problem. Unusual infections, metabolic and nutritional deficiency states, and immunodeficiency states and malignancies can all be implicated. Unfortunately, child abuse (hot-water immersion, extreme neglect of infant hygiene) can also feature a diaper rash.
What are diaper rash symptoms and signs?
A diaper rash is a change in the skin enclosed by a child's diaper. Most commonly, the involved skin is red and may or may not have erosion of the superficial skin layers. Pustules or small blisters may be present. If the irritated skin is sensitive, diaper changing may be mildly uncomfortable for the child.
How do doctors diagnose the cause of a diaper rash?
Most diaper rashes are a result of skin irritants (urine and/or stool) inflaming immature, vulnerable skin. Such a rash is termed a contact skin irritant rash. Two types of infections may occur independently or be a complication of a contact diaper rash. Staph and strep bacterial skin infections may be associated with pustules or tiny blisters. A Candida yeast infection may also develop in the diaper region and around the anal area.
What treatments are recommended for diaper rash?
The best treatment for diaper rash is avoidance of the precipitating agents which led to contact irritation and regions becoming secondarily infected by skin bacteria or yeast. Frequent diaper changes limit stool and urine exposure to the area and remain the foundation for the prevention and management of diaper dermatitis.
Should a rash develop, simple cleansing with water and soft cloths tends to be less irritating to the injured skin than disposable wipes. Frequent application of one of the many diaper-area ointments containing either petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or zinc oxide (Desitin) provides an effective barrier against skin irritants and lessens friction to irritated skin. If the diaper rash is especially irritated by the rubbing necessary for proper hygiene, then using a non-sticky cream or ointment (such as Vaseline) as a barrier may be an important consideration. If sticky stool hinders hygiene, it may be more easily removed after the application of mineral oil to the area. Most pediatricians find no benefit to using cornstarch or talcum powder. The risk of possible aspiration of these powders underscores their general lack of significant efficacy. High-concentration baking soda or boric-acid baths are to be avoided due to the possibility of toxicity associated with an increased rate of absorption due to skin breakdown.
Weather and/or carpet permitting, open-air exposure of irritated skin is also extremely effective in helping clear up diaper rash. Many children have a therapeutic response to merely sitting in a warm-water bath twice daily for 15-20 minutes per session. The value of additional agents (including baking soda) added to the bath water is debatable.
Should these measures not provide a solid response within two to three days, the possibility of a secondary bacterial or yeast infection must be considered. The diaper region should be examined by a pediatrician unless the parent is confident in correctly making these diagnoses. Several topical antibiotic ointments are available for therapy in these situations.
Are there home remedies for a diaper rash?
Home remedies for diaper rash include the following:
- Air exposure (such as no diapers for short periods),
- Extra bathing (10-15 minutes in warm water),
- Application of topical barriers to the diaper region.
Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and zinc oxide (Desitin) are often helpful. Powders are not recommended. Neither are high concentrations of baking soda or boric acid baths.
Common Questions About Treating Diaper Rash Naturally
How about not using disposable diapers?
Parents often wonder if switching from disposable to cloth diapers will lessen the likelihood of contact-type diaper rash. The opposite seems to be true. The absorbent gel material found in most of today's disposable diapers draws moisture away from the skin area, thus helping to promote a healthy diaper area.
How should an allergic rash be treated?
Water cleansing of the skin and a switch to another brand of disposable diapers or using cloth diapers instead is usually therapeutic.
How about using cortisone cream?
A minimally concentrated hydrocortisone cream may be recommended in certain cases. However, the excessive usage of minimally concentrated hydrocortisone cream and the use of increased potency hydrocortisone preparations are notorious for causing secondary side effects. They should only be used under the guidance of a pediatrician or another physician who is fully familiar with their application to infants.
How about using Neosporin?
This ointment (and others containing the topical antibiotic neomycin) should be avoided since neomycin is a very common allergen promoting an allergic skin reaction. Instead of helping the situation, such medication may complicate and confuse the situation.
What is the prognosis for a diaper rash?
The prognosis for diaper rashes is excellent. The routine therapies above should provide a rapid and effective response. The lack of such an improvement should raise a red flag to have a pediatric evaluation to rule out unusual conditions associated with a diaper rash. Unfortunately, diaper rashes may recur.
Is it possible to prevent a diaper rash?
Several approaches can help prevent a diaper rash. These include timely changing of soiled diapers, experimentation with alternative diaper brands to address the possibility of a unique sensitivity reaction, air exposure, and extra bathing. Parents need to appreciate that development of a diaper rash is not an indictment of their parenting skills. Rather, it is one of the many challenges of parenthood.
- Attachment Theory: What It Is, Stages & the Different Attachment Styles
- Gentle Parenting: What It Is, Techniques & Discipline
- U.S. Nursing Homes Fail to Report Many Serious Falls, Bedsores: Study
- The Younger You Get Diabetes, the Higher Your Risk for Dementia Later
- FDA Grants Full Approval to Paxlovid to Treat COVID-19
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Kalra, Monica G., Kim E. Higgins, and Bruce S. Kinney. "Intertrigo and Secondary Skin Infections." American Family Physician 89.7 Apr. 1, 2014: 569-573.
Top Intertrigo Related Articles
11 Tips to Get Rid of Diaper Rash FastDiaper rash is a common condition seen in babies. Get rid of diaper rash fast by keeping the area clean and dry, avoiding scrubbing the area, not using baby wipes, and implementing other measures.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis PictureAllergic contact dermatitis. Exposure to the oily sap (urushiol) of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can result in redness and itchy blisters which can spread if scratched. The rash is an allergic reaction and can appear within hours of exposure or up to a few days after exposure.
Are Hives and Rash the Same Thing?Learn how to tell the difference between a rash and hives and how to treat both.
Baby Skin Care: Tips to Keep Newborn’s Skin HealthyBaby skin care products can help with peeling, rashes, baby acne, and dryness that can develop on a newborn baby's skin. Develop a baby skin care routine to pamper your baby’s skin.
Newborn Skin CareSee what normal newborn skin looks like and learn how to care for it. WebMD shows you diapering and bathing tips.
Children's HealthChildren's health is focused on the well-being of children from conception through adolescence. There are many aspects of children's health, including growth and development, illnesses, injuries, behavior, mental illness, family health, and community health.
Cloth Diapers vs. Disposable DiapersThe choices differ, and it all depends on what best suits the parents, their lifestyle and budget. For most new parents, it comes down to the choices between cost, environmental impact and convenience.
Contact DermatitisContact dermatitis is a rash that occurs after exposure to an irritant. Symptoms of contact dermatitis include a red, elevated rash at the site of contact with the irritating substance. Contact dermatitis treatment may involve creams, application of cool water compresses, and applying topical steroids.
How Can I Treat My Baby's Rashes Naturally?A baby may get rashes due to numerous causes. Try to pin down the cause of rashes in the case of your baby. Is it a diaper rash? Is it a reaction to the baby oil? Is it eczema due to dry skin? Is it a viral infection?
Diaper Your Baby GuideWith plenty of chances to diaper your newborn baby, these step-by-step tips will help you master the art of diaper changing and fix any first-time mistakes fast. You may even learn to love this extra time with your baby.
Skin RashThe word "rash" means an outbreak of red bumps on the body. The way people use this term, "a rash" can refer to many different skin conditions. The most common of these are scaly patches of skin and red, itchy bumps or patches all over the place.
Skin QuizWhat's that all over you? Skin, of course! Test your knowledge of your most amazing organ with the Skin Quiz!
Oral Thrush in ChildrenYeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida. Oral thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth and throat. Oral thrush and yeast infections are treated orally or topically with an antifungal antibiotic called nystatin.
What Is Hydrocortisone Cream Used For?Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid that is available as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Hydrocortisone can address skin problems, such as eczema, psoriasis, contact dermatitis, insect bites, diaper rash, neurodermatitis and other conditions.
Yeast Infection vs. Diaper Rash in Infants, Toddlers, and ChildrenDiaper rash in infants, babies, toddlers, and children is caused by Candida, the most common type of fungus. Signs and symptoms of diaper rash includes red, elevated skin that may be visible under and in the creases of the skin, groin, or anus. Yeast diaper rash is not painful. Treatments for diaper rash include antibiotic creams, lotions, natural home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, and oral antibiotics. Yeast infections in infants, babies, toddlers, and children can cause diaper rash and thrush. Signs and symptoms of thrush include thick, white lacy patches on top of a red base that can form on the tongue, palate, or elsewhere inside the palate. Treatment for yeast infections caused by Candida fungi are similar to the treatments for diaper rash. If Candida gets into the bloodstream of an individual they may get sick with or without a fever. If the Candida infection spreads throughout the body up to 45% of people may die. Even with common mouth thrush can cause critical illness and may be more resistant to normal treatment.