Diaper rash, a common condition in infants, causes sore, red, scaly, and tender skin. Learn how to prevent and treat diaper rash.
Diaper rash — also known as diaper dermatitis and (at least in the United Kingdom) “nappy” dermatitis — is a common nuisance among infants under 15 months of age. Although diaper rash can occur among adults who wear diapers, it’s much more likely to affect infants because their outermost layer of skin is considerably thinner and more vulnerable to irritation.
Diaper rash is most often caused by the irritation of tight-fitting diapers, especially unchanged diapers that hold feces and urine. A baby’s delicate skin can also be irritated by the detergents used to wash cloth diapers, certain brands of disposable diapers and baby wipes, and plastic pants that fit over diapers and retain moisture.
In some cases, diaper rash can develop after a baby is introduced to solid foods — when bowel movements become more frequent — or if the baby or breastfeeding mother is on a course of antibiotics, which can increase the risk of yeast infections. Babies affected by skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema may be especially prone to diaper rash.
Although the symptoms of diaper rash — red, puffy skin on the buttocks, thighs, and genitals — can alarm parents, the condition usually clears up after a few days of home treatment. Persistent cases — which may involve secondary infections — can be effectively treated with prescription medications.
Prevention and Treatment of Diaper Rash
The best prevention strategy is to change the baby’s diaper frequently to keep the skin as clean and dry as possible. You also can reduce the risk of diaper rash by:
- Rinsing the baby between diaper changes and allowing the skin to thoroughly dry.
- Patting instead of scrubbing skin between diaper changes.
- Wrapping diapers loosely.
- Appropriately laundering cloth diapers.Extra rinse cycles can remove traces of detergent. When drying diapers, avoid using potentially irritating fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
Some pediatricians recommend several hours a day of diaper-free time to allow irritated skin to dry and “breathe.” During these breaks, you can place your baby in a crib lined with either a large towel or waterproof sheets.
If your baby develops diaper rash, apply an ointment or cream containing petroleum jelly and/or zinc oxide during each diaper change. Avoid using ointments or creams that contain such irritating substances as boric acid, camphor, phenol, methyl salicylate, and compound tincture of benzoin. Also avoid drying powders such as talcum, which can irritate a baby’s lungs, and cornstarch, which can worsen a diaper rash caused by a yeast infection.
Medical Treatment for Diaper Rash
If diaper rash doesn’t clear up after a few days of home treatment, consult your pediatrician. Also seek medical assistance if diaper rash is associated with:
- Pimples, small ulcers, or large bumps or nodules
- Weight loss
- Rash that spreads to other areas, such as the arms, face, or scalp.
In severe cases, your baby may require treatment with a prescription topical or oral antibiotic, antifungal, or corticosteroid medication.
Although diaper rash is distressing to babies and parents, fairly simple measures can be taken at home to prevent the condition or to treat most cases. If diaper rash is persistent, medical treatments are almost always successful in clearing it up.