When does a rash need medical attention?Coughing and sneezing aren’t the only elements of cold and flu season. Rashes are also caused by other conditions, such as allergies, or can be a symptom of a more serious disease. Some infectious diseases trigger rashes. Most people know when a cough or stomach ache requires medical attention, but we’re far less knowledgeable about rashes. The American Academy of Dermatology is aiming to change that by arming Americans with a few basic facts about rashes.

A rash can present in several different ways. It may be localized to one area or spread all over the body. Appearance varies from blotches or welts to blisters that can be scaly, dry, itchy, or red. While some rashes pass on their own, others tend to stick around.

Dr. Kroshinsky says adults experiencing a rash with any of the following symptoms should see a dermatologist or visit the emergency room.

For adults, if you have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms, Dr. Kroshinsky recommends seeing a dermatologist or going to the emergency room:

  • All-over rash: A rash that appears over your entire body could mean you have an infection or allergic reaction that requires treatment.
  • 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.
  • Sudden appearance and rapid spread: 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.
  • 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.
  • Pain: People who have pain with a rash should see a doctor quickly for treatment.
  • Infection: 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.

“Rashes can come in many forms and, depending on the cause, take days or even weeks to heal,” said Dr. Kroshinsky. “Rather than treating the rash on your own, see a board-certified dermatologist for the proper diagnosis and treatment.”

For children, rashes are even more common and can arise easily, especially in newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Rashes and other skin problems in children account for more than 12 million doctor’s visits each year. In infants, many rashes are harmless and clear up on their own or with over-the-counter treatments. Some children develop dermatitis, which is more common in children with a family history of the condition or allergies. This rash causes itching, redness and small bumps in an infant and, in older children, can appear scaly. Consult a pediatrician. The pediatrician may refer your child to a dermatologist.

Rashes in children can also be caused by infectious disease, such as measles, roseola, and chicken pox. Fevers occur with some rashes. Other times, rashes are caused by a fungus or by allergies or reactions to medications. Talk to a doctor about any rash that concerns you.


American Academy of Dermatology. Rash 101 in adults: When to seek treatment.
Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/rash-in-adults

American Academy of Dermatology. (2015, Aug. 13). How to tell if a rash needs medical attention.
Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/how-to-tell-if-a-rash-needs-medical-attention

American Academy of Pediatrics


Allmon, A., Deane, E., & Martin, K.I. (2015, Aug. 1). Common skin rashes in children. [Abstract]. American Academy of Family Physicians, 92, 211-216.
Retrieved from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/0801/p211.html

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rash information.
Retrieved from: https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/rash-information#.V7ZHmPkrLIU

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