Most of us have experienced a skin rash at one time or another. Sometimes it’s easy to pinpoint the cause of the irritation – a hike through poison ivy or a heat rash that quickly fades as the skin cools – but not all rashes are easy to identify or treat.
Rashes often occur when the skin comes in contact with an irritant found in things like poison plants, soaps, perfumes, latex, jewelry and other such items. Contact with the substance usually triggers a mild reaction causing redness and skin bumps to appear. Dermatologists refer to these types of rashes as contact dermatitis. More severe cases of contact dermatitis can result in swelling and blister formation.
Other causes of rashes include infections, autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis, dry skin, medication and food allergies, insects or parasites, and certain medical conditions.
Simple rashes don’t typically require medical attention. They can be treated at home by cleansing the area with a mild soap and water and applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. If you suspect dry skin is the cause of the rash, moisturize immediately after your bath or shower. Oatmeal baths and calamine products may also be used to relieve the itch.
Sometimes rashes can be a symptom of a more serious condition.
A dermatologist should evaluate any rash that:
- Covers the body
- Is accompanied by a fever
- Appears suddenly and spreads rapidly
- Lasts longer than one week
- Is blistered or has open sores
- Feels painful
- Becomes crusty, has yellow or green drainage or exhibits other signs of infection
- Develops on the eyes, multiple areas of the mouth, or on the genitals
A rash that is accompanied by breathing problems is a life-threatening emergency and you should call 9-1-1 immediately.
Some rashes fade quickly, while others remain for weeks or months. Your dermatologist can help determine the cause of your rash and prescribe an effective treatment.