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Types of Diaper Rash and their Causes

Diaper rash is a bright red breakout that develops under a diaper. It is a common problem in babies but it also affects adults wearing diaper products. There are several different types of skin conditions that can cause diaper rash. In fact, diaper rash is a general term to describe various skin problems that occur in the diaper covered area.

Types of Diaper Rash

Irritant diaper dermatitis is the most common form of diaper rash, a form of irritant contact dermatitis. It is caused by feces trapped by the diaper which can make the genital area, thighs and buttocks appear red and puffy. Irritant diaper dermatitis usually follows bouts of diarrhea, causing mild discomfort.

Atopic dermatitis is the most frequent form of eczema causing diaper rash. The rash appears as red and scaly patches on the legs and in the groin area. It may start in other areas of the body first and then spread to the diaper area. Genetic predisposition to asthma, hay fever and allergies may increase the risk for atopic dermatitis.

Perianal dermatitis shows up as a bright to dark redness around the anus. It is caused by increased alkalinity of the feces, which is typical for bottle fed babies. This type of diaper rash does not appear in breast-fed babies until they start eating solids.

Candidal dermatitis is a kind of diaper rash caused by a yeast infection and it is very tender and painful. These rashes first show up as small red spots that become more numerous and then form together as a raised bright red rash with distinct edges. The most commonly affected areas are the fold of the genitals, legs and creases of thighs and abdomen. Candidal dermatitis usually affects babies that have been or are taking antibiotics.

Impetigo is a bacterial infection that either forms a yellow-brown, crusty rash or pus filled pimples or blisters surrounded by a red area. This kind of rash can appear anywhere on the body, including the diaper area. Treatment may involve a topical or oral antibiotic.

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome is a bacterial infection that starts as a rash around the diaper area or bellybutton. The rash gets painful and may spread all over the body, forming large blisters in affected areas. Blisters may break easily while the skin peels off when touched. Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome is caused by the bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. It is treated with antibiotics.

Seborrheic dermatitis appears as a deep red, rough, raised rash with yellowish scales. The rash, better known as cradle cap, usually starts on the scalp, although it may start in the diaper area and then spread. The cause of the rash are overactive oil glands in the skin. This form of diaper rash mostly affects infants under three months old.

Miliaria is a rash that occurs due to exposure to heat and humidity. The lack of airflow and sweat create the ideal situation for a miliaria rash. This rash also often follows bouts of diarrhea.

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition, often with genetic predisposition. It usually involves the scalp and nails but it may occur in the diaper area too. Psoriasis is most of the time responsive to steroid medications. You should know that barrier creams and antifungal medications do not improve this condition.

Intertrigo is a red rash resulting from skin rubbing on skin. It is usually found in the folds between the abdomen and thighs. The rash typically follows bouts of diarrhea.

Causes of Diaper Rash

As there are so many different types of diaper rash, there also happen to be many potential causes of this condition, including:

Exposure to feces and urine, if prolonged, can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Feces are especially irritating. Therefore, babies may be more likely to develop diaper rash during periods of frequent bowel movements. The same holds true for adults using diapers for urinary or fecal incontinence and people who for some reason are unable to wash their genitals frequently.

Reaction to various foods. Once babies start eating solid foods, an intolerance or allergy to a particular food may cause diaper rash or result in bouts of diarrhea that lead to diaper rash. However, babies who are breastfed may also develop diaper rash that is a result of reaction to substances in their mother’s diet.

Chafing or rubbing. When diapers are too tight or clothing rubs against the skin, diaper rash may occur.

Reaction to a new product. Products that commonly cause skin irritation in babies leading to diaper rash may include disposable diapers, disposable wipes, baby lotions, oils and powders. Bleaches, detergents and fabric softeners used to wash cloth diapers can also irritate a baby’s bottom.

Bacterial or yeast infections. Skin infections from other parts of the body may spread to the moist and warm body areas such as buttocks, thighs and genitals where they thrive best, especially in the creases of the skin. Any person who touches a baby without washing their hands may pass infections to a baby. In addition, vaginal yeast infections may pass from a mother to a child during childbirth.

Use of antibiotics. Although antibiotics kill harmful bacteria, they can also rid the body of beneficial bacteria that help prevent yeast infections and thus contribute to the development of diaper rash. This effect can also happen when mothers are taking antibiotics while breastfeeding.

Sensitive skin. Babies who suffer from eczema or some other skin conditions may be more prone to developing diaper rash.

In rare cases, diaper rash can be also associated with serious diseases. Though not too common, babies with HIV/AIDS, congenital syphilis and some other diseases may develop diaper rash as a symptom of the disease or a result of the physical response to it (see also “How to Prevent and Treat Diaper Rash“).

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