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Diaper Dermatitis in Children

What is diaper dermatitis in children?

Diaper dermatitis is inflammation of the skin in the diaper area. It’s a very common condition in babies and toddlers.

What causes diaper dermatitis in a child?

In most cases, diaper dermatitis is a type of contact dermatitis. That means the skin is inflamed from contact with certain substances. In diaper dermatitis, urine and feces irritate the skin. 

Other common causes of diaper dermatitis include:

  • Candida. This is a yeast infection in the diaper area. Candida infection may occur if contact dermatitis is not treated in a few days.

  • Seborrhea. This is a common, long-term skin condition. The cause of seborrhea is not known. It often affects the diaper area and other parts of the body.

Other less common causes of dermatitis in the diaper area include:

  • Bacteria. Staph or strep bacteria can cause it.

  • Allergies. It can be caused by an allergic reaction to dye in disposable diapers, or detergent used to wash cloth diapers.

Which children are at risk for diaper dermatitis?

Any baby or toddler can develop diaper dermatitis. Things that increase the risk include:

  • You don't change your child's diapers often enough

  • Your child has diarrhea or frequent bowel movements

  • Your child is taking antibiotics. Or you are taking antibiotics and you are breastfeeding.

What are the symptoms of diaper dermatitis in a child?

The symptoms of diaper dermatitis vary depending on the cause. And symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Contact diaper dermatitis. Skin that is irritated from urine and feces will look red and shiny. The skin on the buttocks, thighs, belly (abdomen), and waist may be affected. The skin creases or folds are often not affected.

  • Candida diaper dermatitis. The skin is a deep red color with patches outside of the diaper area. A baby may also have a yeast infection in the mouth (thrush). The creases or folds of the thighs and in the diaper area are often affected. 

  • Seborrheic diaper dermatitis. The skin is red with yellow, oily patches. It also affects the skin folds. It also often affects the face, scalp, or neck at the same time.

Many of these symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is diaper dermatitis diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. They will give your child a physical exam. Your child may have lab tests, but they are often not needed.

How is diaper dermatitis treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the cause, and how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Periods of time without wearing diapers

  • Frequent diaper changes

  • Creams or ointments put on the diaper area to protect the skin

  • Antifungal cream or ointment for a Candida infection

  • Corticosteroid cream for more severe dermatitis

  • Antibiotic medicine for a bacterial infection

What can I do to help prevent diaper dermatitis in my child?

To prevent diaper dermatitis, it's important to take care of your child's skin correctly. This includes:

  • Keeping the skin under a diaper clean and dry

  • Changing diapers often

  • Letting the skin under a diaper to air dry at times

  • Letting your child to go without a diaper when possible

  • Gently cleaning the diaper area with a soft cloth and warm water

  • Limiting the use of soap or other strong products on the skin

  • Not using scented wipes or wipes with alcohol

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better in 2 to 3 days

  • Symptoms that get worse

  • Blisters or pus-filled sores

  • Fever

Key points about diaper dermatitis

  • Diaper dermatitis is inflammation of the skin under a diaper.

  • It's most often because of irritation from urine and feces.

  • Different types of diaper dermatitis have different symptoms. When irritated from urine and feces, the skin is usually red in color.

  • Treatment includes diaper-free periods, cream, and ointment.

  • It's important to keep the diaper area clean and dry, change diapers often, and not use irritants such as soap or scented wipes.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.

Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Pat F Bass MD MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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