Recognize a Skin Rash: 6 Signs to Seek Medical Attention
A skin rash is rarely life-threatening. Often, it’s just itchy and annoying for a short time. But what if it’s not?
How do you know when to seek medical attention for a skin rash?
In this article, you’ll learn about…
- Common causes of skin rashes
- How to treat a skin rash at home
- 6 signs a skin rash requires medical attention
17 Common Causes of Skin Rashes
You wake up one day and notice a rash. Maybe it’s blotchy skin, raised bumps, itchiness, or all three. Wondering where it came from?
If your skin touches something with an allergen or irritant, and you develop a rash, it’s called contact dermatitis.1
Common sources for this type of rash include:
- Chemicals in elastic, latex, and rubber products
- Cosmetics, soaps, and detergents
- Dyes and other chemicals in clothing
- Urushiol oil from the leaves of poison ivy, oak, or sumac
Got a rash that looks like scaly-red patches around the eyes, mouth, nose, trunk, behind the ears or on your scalp?
This type of rash is called seborrheic dermatitis, but it’s harmless.1 If you see this on your scalp, it’s also known as dandruff.
Common sources for this type of rash include:
- Weather conditions
- Oily skin
- Frequency of washing hair
- Lotions with alcohol
More rash-related conditions and allergens
The sometimes-tricky thing about rashes is that they can be caused by a wide variety of factors.
If you know the source of a rash, you can better manage your symptoms or seek medical attention. More common sources of rashes include:1
- Eczema. A skin condition that can cause a red, itchy, and scaly rash
- Psoriasis. An autoimmune disease that can cause red, scaly patches over joints and on the scalp.
- Shingles. This virus can cause a skin rash with painful blisters. It’s similar to chickenpox.
- Medications. Some medications can cause an allergic reaction that results in a rash.
- Insect bites & stings. Even if you’re not allergic, some insect bites and stings can leave a rash that lasts a few hours to a few days.
- Heat. Excessive exposure to heat or activity in hot weather can cause a rash.2
How to Treat a Skin Rash at Home
You’ve got a rash. Now what?
Fortunately, most rashes will improve on their own. Effective skin care and avoiding any allergens or irritants will help, too.
Before you treat a rash, try to identify where it came from.
Want to treat a rash at home? Here are some things you can try:1
- Avoid scrubbing your skin.
- Use gentle soaps and cleansers.
- Avoid putting make-up and lotions directly on the rash. Stop using any skincare products that may have caused the rash.
- Use warm water to clean the rash area. Pat dry; don’t rub.
- Leave the rash area exposed to the air as much as possible.
- Try calamine medicated lotion to reduce itchiness for rashes caused by poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
- Use over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to reduce pain and itchiness caused by a rash.
- Take an over-the-counter antihistamine for skin rashes caused by an allergen, like a bee sting, to reduce itchiness and swelling
6 Signs a Skin Rash Needs Medical Attention
Is it just a minor rash, or something more serious? If a rash persists, gets worse, grows in size, or causes pain, you may need medical attention.
If you have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms, see a doctor or go to an emergency room hospital:
Your skin rash may be serious if:3
- It’s an all-over rash. A rash that appears over your entire body could mean you have an infection or allergic reaction that requires treatment.
- You have a fever. A rash with fever could indicate an allergic reaction or infection, such as scarlet fever, shingles, measles, or mononucleosis. Because these infections can be severe, see a doctor or go to the ER.
- It appears suddenly and spreads rapidly. A rash that pops up quickly and spreads across the body could mean you’re experiencing an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to medications are commonplace but can occasionally be dangerous. If you have difficulty breathing with this rash, visit the emergency room or call 911.
- The rash has blisters. A rash that presents as blisters, or turns into blisters, could mean you’re allergic to a medication or something inside your body. You need to see a doctor if the blisters appear around your eyes, genitals, or in more than one area of your mouth.
- You’re in pain. People who have pain with a rash should see a doctor quickly for treatment.
- The rash is infected. Itchy rashes can become infected as a result of scratching. You’ll know your rash has become infected if you experience swelling, crusting, yellow or green fluid, pain and warmth around the rash, or a red streak that begins at the rash.
Although most rashes are not life-threatening, some rashes can signal something more serious. If you have a rash and notice any of the symptoms mentioned, it may be best to see a dermatologist or go to the emergency room immediately.
Note: This article contains information compiled by HealthMarkets. HealthMarkets does not represent that these are statements of fact. Please consult directly with your primary care physician if you need medical advice.