Widespread Rashes with Unknown Cause

Symptom Definition

  • Rash over most of the body (widespread or generalized) (Occasionally just on hands, feet and buttocks – but both sides of body)
  • Red or pink rash
  • Small spots or large spots
  • Main Cause: viral exanthem, a 2 or 3 day rash occurring with a viral illness.
  • Common Causes: 6 rashes that you may be able to recognize are listed below.If not, use this guideline

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Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If

  • Purple or blood-colored rash with fever
  • Sudden onset of rash (within 2 hours) and also has difficulty with breathing or swallowing
  • Too weak or sick to stand

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Purple or blood-colored rash WITHOUT fever
  • Bright red skin that peels off in sheets
  • Taking a medication
  • Fever

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 and 4) If

  • A widespread rash, but none of the symptoms described above

Home Care Advice for Widespread Rashes (Pending Talking with Your Doctor)

  1. For Non-Itchy Rashes: No treatment is necessary, except for heat rashes which respond to cool baths.
  2. For Itchy Rashes: Wash the skin once with soap to remove irritants. Then give your child cool baths without any soap 4 times per day for 10 minutes whenever the itch is uncomfortable. (Caution: avoid any chill). Follow with calamine lotion or a baking soda solution (1 teaspoon in 4 ounces of water).
  3. Contagiousness: Avoid contact with other children and especially pregnant women until a diagnosis is made. Most viral rashes are contagious (especially if a fever is present). Your child can return to day care or school after the rash is gone or your doctor says it’s safe to return with the rash.
  4. Expected Course: Most viral rashes disappear within 48 hours.
  5. Call Your Doctor If
    • Your child becomes worse or develops any of the “Call Your Doctor” symptoms