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How to Prevent and Treat Diaper Rash

Diaper rash is a common form of skin inflammation, most often a result of irritant diaper dermatitis. It appears as a bright red breakout on a baby’s buttocks, thighs and genitals. Diaper rash typically causes mild redness and scaling of the affected area of the skin but in more severe cases pimples may also develop and the skin may break and ooze.

Babies under 12 months old are most likely to develop diaper rash, with the highest level of incidence occurring when the baby is able to sit up more often (between 9-12 months) but may not yet be walking. A family history of asthma, eczema, hay fever or other allergies may predispose a child to developing diaper rash.

Diaper rash may also develop in adults with urinary or fecal incontinence, using adult diaper products. Moreover, it can occur in some adults as a result of poor hygiene in the genital area. Treatment of diaper rash is the same for children and adults.

Signs and Symptoms of Diaper Rash

The most common symptoms of diaper rash include reddish, puffy and slightly warmer skin in the buttocks, thighs and genital region that regularly come into contact with the diaper. A baby with diaper rash may cry or fuss when the diaper area is washed or touched. However, since there are several different types and causes of diaper rash, the symptoms can vary. The rash may also appear as patches of red, rough, scaly skin with areas of small, red pimples and in rare cases it may be open and ooze. Oral thrush, in which the mouth becomes infected with the fungus Candida, may sometimes accompany diaper rash in infants.

Although diaper rash should normally clear within a few days of starting a home-based treatment, more stubborn cases may lead to secondary infections that require prescription medications. Contact a doctor if a rash does not respond to home-based treatments or if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Blisters or boils
  • Fever
  • Lethargy, unusual irritability or fussiness
  • Pus or weeping discharge
  • Rash is severe and yet worsens or extends beyond the diaper area
  • Weight loss or reduction in appetite

Diagnosing and Treating Diaper Rash

Most of the time diaper rash can be easily identified at home without a visit to the doctor. However, parents who encounter this problem in their child for the first time may go to see the doctor who will usually only need to make a visual examination of the skin to determine the diagnosis. Microscopic examination of skin scrapings can help establish the cause of the problem – bacteria or fungi.

Diaper rash may be treated at home using various over-the-counter medications, with many of them containing zinc oxide. In addition, it is important to ensure that the skin remains as dry and clean as possible.

When treated at home with OTC medications, diaper rash should subside within two to three days. The rash that persists longer than that may need to be treated with prescription medications, such as antibiotics (if the rash is caused by bacterial infection) antifungal creams (if caused by Candida infection) or mild hydrocortisone creams. Diaper rash that persists for a period of several weeks requires a visit to a dermatologist.

Preventing Diaper Rash

There are several steps parents can take to reduce the risk of their baby developing diaper rash. Many of these rules also apply to adults at risk of diaper rash. They include:

Change diapers often. Check diapers frequently and, when wet or soiled, change them immediately.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after changing a diaper. This should help prevent the spread of yeast or bacteria.

Rinse the bottom with water during each diaper change. However, avoid using wipes that contain fragrance or alcohol. Occasionally soak the baby’s bottom in warm water between changes.

Pat the bottom dry with a clean towel. Do not scrub the baby’s bottom as you may irritate the skin. Also, make sure that the skin is dry before placing a new diaper on the baby.

Occasionally leave the baby’s bottom dry naturally in the air. During these periods you can lay a baby on a large towel and engage it in some playtime.

Try a different type of diaper. Recurrent diaper rashes can be a result of a reaction to the diaper. If disposable diapers are used, try using cloth diapers and vice-versa. Changing to a different brand may also help. Changing detergents used to launder cloth diapers may also help. However, there is no evidence that either disposable diapers or cloth diapers are more suitable for preventing diaper rash.

Avoid diapers with plastic edges. Also, do not over-tighten diapers. This is important in order to ensure unrestricted airflow to the diaper region. Proper airflow prevents a build-up of moisture in the diaper region.

Avoid plastic pants. Just like diapers with plastic edges, diaper pants restrict airflow and trap moisture and increase temperature under the diaper, leading to diaper rash.

Use diaper liners and breathable diaper covers. They help to keep skin drier and allow air to circulate.

Wash cloth diapers carefully. Pre-soak heavily soiled cloth diapers and wash them in hot water with a mild detergent. Do not use fabric softeners containing fragrances to avoid possible irritation. Cloth diapers should be double rinsed.

Increase the baby’s fluid intake. This will make the baby’s urine less concentrated, reducing the amount of ammonia its skin is exposed to.

Use ointment regularly. If your baby is prone to diaper rash, apply a barrier ointment during each diaper change to prevent skin irritation.

Consider breastfeeding your infant. Babies who are breastfed tend to have a lower risk of developing diaper rash. This is because their stool contains fewer enzymes and other substances that can irritate the skin.

Where to Get More Information: Baby Center