How to Treat Diaper Rash

Diaper rash is the most common rash diagnosed in the pediatric population. Up to one third of all babies suffer from this annoying, occasionally out-of-control condition that can be stubborn to treat. House Call Doctor has tips on how to best prevent and heal diaper rash.

Sanaz Majd, MD,
May 22, 2014
Episode #154

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Here’s a common baby issue that can drive parents bonkers – diaper rash.  It is the most common rash diagnosed in the pediatric population - up to one third of all babies suffer from this annoyance. Occasionally, out-of-control diaper rash stubbornly resists treatment. Parents of infants frequently ask me what is the best treatment for diaper rash.  Let’s learn about it today. .

What Is Diaper Rash?

A diaper rash is…well, a rash in the distribution of an overlying diaper (mainly the buttocks and/or genitals) and is often referred to as “diaper dermatitis.”  The word “dermatitis” simply means inflamed skin.  This inflamed skin is often red and irritated, but can also be scaly, raised, or even contain fluid-filled pustules.  It is most frequently encountered in infants and babies, but it can happen in adults who wear adult diapers.

The culprit is often skin contact with urine and stool. If left untreated, it can also turn into a fungal infection.  However, diaper dermatitis can also less commonly be caused by an allergic reaction to something coming into contact with the skin underneath the diaper (such as creams, ointments, powders, etc.).  It typically occurs around the areas covered by the diaper but spares the skin folds, unless it’s fungal - fungus loves to attack the folds of the skin.

Diaper Rash Risk Factors

Any baby can get a diaper rash, and many of them will have at least one episode of diaper rash at some point.  However, certain risk factors can increase their chances of getting it:

  • Diarrhea
  • Recent antibiotics
  • Infrequent diaper changes
  • Diaper-type sensitivity
  • Detergent sensitivity from laundered cloth diapers
  • Sensitivity to topical products used in the diaper area

The last 3 risk factors are far less common than the first 3.

Treatment of Diaper Rash

Fortunately, most diaper rashes resolve quickly and without the need to see your doctor.  Here's what you can do at home to treat your baby's irritated bum:

  • Periods of diaper rest:  Every day, allow your child to be diaper-free for a little while, allowing the skin to air out.

  • Frequent diaper changes:  Change the diaper every 2-3 hours, and immediately after a bowel movement, in order to limit contact with stool and urine.

  • Topical barriers:  Use a paste containing zinc-oxide and/or a petroleum-based topical ointment smeared thickly on the affected area with each diaper change.  You may want to routinely use a barrier, whether or not your baby has a rash, in order to prevent future outbreaks. These topical barriers help block the direct contact of urine and feces with the skin.  Regular creams and lotions are not thick enough to provide an adequate barrier.


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