Skin Rash and Poison Ivy in Kids

Is your kiddo scratching? Do they have a new mystery rash? KidsStreet unravels the mystery and breaks down the causes and treatments for common rashes and itching in children.

Skin rashes and itching are common in children, but figuring out why they’re scratching and how to relieve it can be frustrating! KidsStreet is here to help you sort it all out.

Symptoms of Skin Rash

Most symptoms of skin rash in kids are mild and can be treated at home. These include skin that is:

  • Bumpy
  • Dry
  • Irritated
  • Itchy
  • Pink or red on lighter skin and brown or purple on darker skin

Some children may experience more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Blisters
  • Fever
  • Full body rash
  • Hives
  • Signs of infection
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling

If your child is experiencing severe skin rash symptoms, they should be seen by a medical provider. KidsStreet Urgent Care can help!

What Causes Skin Rashes in Children?

There are four primary causes of rashes:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Viral infections
  • Dermatitis

Bacterial Skin Rashes

Bacterial rashes are contagious and require topical or oral antibiotic treatment. Two common bacterial rashes are:

  • Impetigo is caused by group A Streptococcus or Staphylococcus aureus. It is characterized by tiny red blisters that pop, ooze yellow fluid, and then form a “honey-colored” crust.
  • Scarlet Fever is caused by group A Streptococcus. It is characterized by a red rash that feels like sandpaper and starts with a fever, headache, and sore throat. A classic sign is a tongue resembling a strawberry and paleness around your child’s lips.

Fungal Skin Rashes

Some fungal infection skin rashes are contagious and require topical or oral anti-fungal treatments. Fungi like to live in warm, moist areas, such as sweaty skin, shoes, and underwear. Two common fungal skin rashes your child might experience include:

  • Ringworm—don’t panic—worms do not cause it! Ringworm is caused by fungi that live on the dead tissue on our hair, top skin layers, and toenails. It got its name because the rash looks like a ring with a clear center. It is usually red and itchy.
  • Athlete’s Foot is a type of ringworm skin rash on the feet. It can be prevented by avoiding tight, wet shoes or socks and wearing shower shoes in common bathing areas like public pools.  

Viral Skin Rashes

As the name implies, viral skin rashes are caused by various viral infections. Some viral infections, such as chickenpox, measles, and rubella, can be prevented with vaccines. Viral skin rashes like molluscum contagiosum and hand, foot, and mouth disease do not currently have vaccines.

Viral skin rashes are usually treated with supportive care while the infection runs its course. You can try acetaminophen for fevers and anti-itch creams for itching. A few common viral rashes are:

  • Fifth disease – Caused by the Parvovirus B19, fifth disease is characterized by a red rash on your little one’s cheeks. It then spreads to the rest of the body as pink patches that look like a lace design. They may have a fever with the rash.
  • Roseola – Caused by human herpes viruses 6 and 7, roseola usually starts with a high fever. Then small pink or light-red spots develop on your child’s tummy, chest and back. It may spread to their face, arms, and legs. Roseola doesn’t usually itch, but your kiddo may have cold-like symptoms, like a runny nose, and it’s contagious until the fever breaks.  


Dermatitis is a condition that triggers irritation and a rash on your child’s skin. Some examples include eczema, cradle cap, and diaper rash.

The most common type of dermatitis is contact dermatitis. This occurs when your kiddo’s skin comes into contact with a substance that causes an itchy rash as an allergic reaction. Some common irritants that may cause contact dermatitis include:

  • Chemicals such as laundry detergents, soaps, and fabric softeners
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Poison Ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac

A poison ivy rash in childhood is common, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Let’s take a closer look at poison ivy to see how your child might get it, how you might prevent it, and most importantly, how to get relief!

Poison Ivy in Kids

If you’ve ever had poison ivy, you know how miserable it can be, especially in childhood.

Causes of Poison Ivy Rash

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac emit an oil called urushiol when their leaves are disturbed. This oil causes an allergic reaction in most people. Your child may develop a poison ivy rash if they touch the plant or any objects that have come in contact with it.

Poison Ivy Symptoms

The most common symptoms of poison ivy, oak, and sumac include:

  • Blisters and bumps which may ooze and crust
  • Itchy rash
  • Leathery patches that are darker – more commonly in darker skin
  • Scaly, dry, cracked skin – seen more commonly in lighter skin
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness

The rash can appear in the first few minutes after exposure or take hours to develop. Poison ivy rashes last about one to three weeks.

Preventing Poison Ivy Rash in Kids

The best advice to prevent a poison ivy rash is to avoid the sources. Teach your child what the plants look like and where they grow:

  • The phrase “leaves of three, leave them be” is common advice since poison ivy and poison oak usually have three leaves on each stem. Both poison ivy and poison oak grows as vines or shrubs. However, poison sumac looks a little different. It usually has five to seven leaves on each stem and grows as a shrub or small tree.
  • Poison ivy can be found throughout the United States. Poison oak typically grows on the West Coast and in the Southeast, and poison sumac grows in wet, marshy areas.

Additional KidsStreet tips for avoiding poison ivy exposure include:


  • If poison ivy grows near your home, point it out to your child and explain why they should not touch it.
  • Keep pets away from poison ivy, as the oil could get on their fur and spread it to your kiddo.
  • Dress your child in long sleeves, long pants, and closed shoes if they play in or near wooded areas with poison ivy.
  • If you are concerned that your child may have touched poison ivy, wash their hands and clothes immediately. Pro-tip: washing their hands with dish soap will help break down the plant oil better.

Treating Poison Ivy Rash at Home

Most poison ivy rashes can be treated at home. Here are our best tips to help your little one get relief:

  • Apply calamine lotion or cortisol cream to the rash, but avoid the face and genitals.
  • Apply cold compresses to the rash.
  • Bathe your child in a soothing oatmeal bath.
  • Encourage your child to avoid scratching. Cut your kiddo’s nails short and put socks on their hands at night to keep them from scratching in their sleep.
  • Give over-the-counter antihistamines such as Children’s Benadryl at night to help them rest.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Poison Ivy Rash

Your child needs to see a medical provider if the rash:

  • Covers a large percentage of their body.
  • Is on their face or genitals.
  • Is getting worse.
  • Looks infected, such as red streaking, swelling, or increased pain.

You should take your child to an emergency room if they have a known allergy to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac or if they develop:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen tongue or throat
Why Choose KidsStreet urgent Care?

Turn to KidsStreet Urgent Care

KidsStreet Urgent Care is here for all of life’s little emergencies, including rashes and poison ivy. Visit one of our clinics near you to get them healing and feeling better fast!

Register online to visit the clinic. You and your child can wait in the convenience of your home or vehicle until we are ready to see you. We’ll text you when it’s time to head to the clinic.

KidsStreet loves walk-ins too! However, we recommend registering online before your visit to reduce in-clinic wait times. Walk-ins join the same queue as those who register online.