Diaper rash is a common but irritating problem. How should it be treated and can it be prevented? Dr. Jason Yaun, a Le Bonheur pediatrician, tackles these questions below.

What causes diaper rash?

The term diaper rash includes several different common terms that describe inflamed skin that can occur in the diaper area of an infant. It is very common and normal part of childhood. It may be very mild involving a few bumps over a small area, or it may become severe and extensive to the point that it spreads. Most rashes are due to irritation in the diaper area or caused by yeast. A diaper rash due to irritation in that area is usually due to pressure, sensitive skin, moisture from being continuously wet or diarrhea. It may also occur after adding solid foods to a baby’s diet or when an infant is taking antibiotics.

How should it be treated?

A mild diaper rash probably can be managed at home and does not need to be evaluated by your child’s doctor. You should start to treat it by ensuring that you are changing your child’s diaper frequently and keeping the area clean and dry. You should clean the diaper area well at each change with mild and unscented wipes.

You can try over the counter ointments or pastes to provide a protective barrier. They should contain petrolatum, zinc oxide or both ingredients. Some common examples include Desitin, A&D Ointment or Triple Paste. They can be applied thickly and covered with petroleum jelly.

For a diaper rash that is caused by a yeast infection, a topical over-the-counter antifungal cream, such as Nystatin may be used. This is characterized by red beefy plaques and involvement of the skin folds or a diaper rash that is present for more than three days.

You should see your doctor if:

  • this rash is severe
  • extensive
  • does not improve with treatment
  • your child has fever
  • you see blisters or open sores

This may indicated a bacterial infection or a more severe diaper rash that may need to be treated with antibiotics or stronger medications such as a steroid cream.

Can it be prevented?

The best form of prevention is to minimize the amount of time a child stays in a wet or dirty diaper and to practice gentle cleansing with fragrance-free soaps and wipes.