Common skin problems among children

Various types of rashes are very common in childhood. The causes and symptoms of skin problems can be due to the basic structure of the child’s skin, for example, an atopic dermatitis, or external irritation, such as allergic reactions. Some rashes can also be related to various infectious diseases or varieties of pox.

Fortunately, most childhood skin problems subside completely, but a particularly difficult rash can certainly become a lifelong nuisance. Childhood skin problems should be treated carefully as many skin diseases can have an impact on the child’s and the entire family’s quality of life. If a troublesome night-time itchiness keeps a child awake, the entire family may have trouble sleeping as well.

Atopic dermatitis in children

Atopic dermatitis is the most common skin problem among children. Up to 15–20% of children are diagnosed with it at some point. The symptoms of atopic dermatitis include dry, itching, chronic or recurrent rash in certain areas of the skin, such as the bend of the elbows and knees, for example.

Symptoms and treatment of childhood atopic dermatitis

Babies who are at the age of breastfeeding typically experience a dermatitis in the cheeks, chin or the body. Typical locations of dermatitis in pre-schoolers include the face, limb extensors and the bend of the elbows and knees. Among school-age children, a dermatitis is often detected in the bends or the face. Atopic dermatitis is sometimes associated with food allergies, allergic rhinitis and asthma.

The basic mode of treating atopic dermatitis is to regularly apply a cream on the infected area. The ointment base is selected on a case by case basis, but greasy bases are slightly more suitable than less greasy bases in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. If necessary, the cream can contain 1% of hydrocortisone, and it can be used in courses of 1–2 weeks. If cortisone products do not provide the ideal response, calcineurin inhibitors can also be an option.

If the atopic dermatitis does not subside with basic creams or it involves any additional symptoms, it is recommended to see a doctor in order to plan comprehensive skin care and to evaluate different alternative modes of treatment.

Learn more: Information about atopic dermatitis (in Finnish)


Impetigo is one of the most common bacterial infections of the skin. It is most commonly caused by the Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. Scratching the infected area is an easy way to spread the infection. If the crust developed as a result of impetigo is in a small area of skin, washing it with soap and keeping the skin dry is a sufficiently effective mode of treatment.

Applying a bandage that does not let the infection breathe should be avoided, as the infection will only become worse. If the infection spreads to a larger area, an antibiotic cream and a prescription of antibiotics are required.


Molluscum contagiosum, also known as water warts, is a viral infection of the skin that results in small lesions. The warts are a particularly common issue among children, although the number of lesions varies greatly. Water warts subside spontaneously over time. Warts that have spread over a large or particularly difficult area of the skin can be treated by puncturing them with a needle or pinchers, but in most cases, patient waiting is the preferred mode of treatment.

Common warts (verruca vulgaris) are also skin growths, caused by viruses in the human papillomavirus family. Warts in the hands or soles of feet are also very common among children. The treatment requires commitment, as, in most cases, the topical medication must be administered for up to 1–2 months. The warts can also be treated with cryotherapy or laser therapy. It is very likely that the warts of an otherwise healthy child will heal spontaneously.

Cold sores in children

Cold sores is a type of infection by the herpes simplex virus that is most commonly present in the lips, nostrils or mouth.

Herpes lesions in the mouth can be very painful, which is why small children often refuse to eat or drink. In such cases, the use of painkillers is indicated. Eating cold foods, such as ice cream, can also provide additional help. Cold sores on the skin can be treated with topically administered products available in pharmacies.

Learn more: Information about herpes labialis


Hives, also known as urticaria, is an infectious reaction that causes intense itchiness, changes location and subsides spontaneously without a trace. In most cases, the cause of hives cannot be explained, but the most common cause in children is a viral infection.

The skin orders subside once the virus infection goes away. In some cases, the symptoms may be an allergic reaction to a food or medication. This can be verified through a panel of allergy tests. The symptoms of hives can be treated efficiently with antihistamines.


Scabies is a condition caused by a mite that burrows into the skin of humans. It can be spread through skin contact or, in some cases, through clothing. The condition causes blisters or intensively itching papules on the skin between fingers, wrists or the soles of feet. In most cases, superficial burrows are visible to the eye, and they end in a small black dot, which is the mite.

Scabies is often associated with a bacterial infection due to the excessive scratching of the skin. Scabies can be treated with a topically administered cream or a shampoo purchased from a pharmacy. It is also recommended to wash your bedlinen at a temperature of at least +60 °C.

Pox diseases

Common causes of childhood dermatitis also include viral pox diseases. Most childhood poxes (including measles, rubella and varicella) have been eradicated almost completely or about to be eradicated, thanks to the national vaccination programme. Common pox diseases that cause skin problems include erythema infectiosum, roseola and the hand, foot and mouth disease.

Pox diseases in children – when should you see a doctor?

These viral pox diseases are commonly associated with so minor symptoms that symptomatic treatment at home is often sufficient. If the symptoms are severe, however, a doctor’s appointment should be booked. Remember that help is always available in the Digital Clinic every day! The service can be accessed through the OmaMehiläinen mobile application or online Service.

The first sign of erythema infectiosum is a condition that resembles a mild common cold, after which bright red eczematous lesions develop on the face, body and buttocks. The reticulate dermatitis can last up to a couple of weeks.

Roseola is most common among young children, and its initial symptoms include a high fever of 39 °C, during which the child is often irritable. When the fever is subsiding, a mild reddish dermatitis first develops in the neck and back and before spreading throughout the body.

Hand, foot and mouth disease causes skin lesions that resemble blisters in the pharynx, hands and the soles of feet. A rash may also be present in the legs and buttocks. All skin problems caused by hand, foot and mouth disease will subside spontaneously.

Varicella is a condition caused by the varicella zoster virus that involves a rash with blisters. The incubation period of the disease is 10–20 days, and it can be spread easily through airborne transmission or contact with the blisters. The initial phase of the disease is sometimes associated with a fever, after which the blistering rash will spread throughout the body. Once the rash develops into scabs, the disease is no longer infectious, but it may take several weeks for the scabs to heal.

A varicella vaccination is part of the current vaccination programme, and the disease will possibly be eradicated in the coming years.

Specialists and locations

Minna Aaltonen
LT, lastentautien erikoislääkäri
Henrikka Aito
LT, lastentautien erikoislääkäri
Minna Aromaa
LT, lastentautien erikoislääkäri
Pekka Autio
DOS, ihotautien erikoislääkäri