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A rash is a skin reaction, which causes a change in the colour or texture of skin. Its appearance varies. A rash can consist of small, dot-like red marks, blisters or a large, flat ‘blotchy’ area. Causes include viruses, bacteria, medical conditions (such as lupus), allergic causes or skin disorders (such as eczema). A rash can be a sign of a worrying medical illness, such as bacterial meningitis, though this is rare. A more common cause is viral infection. These rashes are usually harmless. However, they can be a concern in early pregnancy. 


Rashes can cause different symptoms. They can be itchy (pruritic) or painful, or have no symptoms. There are too many illnesses that cause rashes to outline each individually. Below is a selection of illnesses that cause rash:

  • Slapped Cheek:  Slapped cheek is caused by a virus and tends to cause a bright red rash on both cheeks. The child usually has a fever but feels otherwise well. It is a concern to pregnant women.
  • Bacterial Meningitis:  This rash can consist of small red dots, or purplish bruises. The child is unwell. Other symptoms include: Fever, Headache, Nausea and/or vomiting, Sensitivity to light and/or sound, Neck stiffness
  • Allergic rash: An allergic rash can be caused by contact with something your child is allergic to. This can be a food substance, soap or chemical  irritants. The rash can be localised, meaning just in one area. This can occur if the child is allergic to her watch, for example. The rash can also affect the whole body. Allergic rashes tend to be itchy. Anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, causes a rash along with difficulty breathing.


To identify the cause of the rash, see your doctor. This is especially important if your child is unwell. Your doctor will offer management and advice specific to the cause of the rash. If you suspect your child may have bacterial meningitis, or is suffering anaphylaxis, call an ambulance immediately and seek urgent medical care.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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