Skin rashes can be caused by many things that occur inside and outside your body. Most skin rashes cause some discomfort. They can be painful, itchy, and change the appearance of your skin.
Knowing how to identify a skin rash and pinpoint the underlying cause is key to proper treatment and relief. If you think you have any of the below skin rashes, you may need treatment to help the symptoms resolve. The type of treatment will depend on the rash you have.
What Is A Skin Rash?
A rash is an area of irritated or swollen skin. Not exactly specific, is it? Well, that’s because rashes can be caused by so many things: allergens, chemicals, drugs, viruses, temperature—even stress.
Rashes can also be indicative of more serious skin ailments, like eczema or ringworm. Looking for the signs will be important. Let’s get started.
Eczema is just the nonspecific name of the group of diseases that result in dermatitis or inflammation of the skin.
The red, bumpy skin we associate with a rash is a symptom of eczema—of which there are many types. Atopic dermatitis is the most common, long-lasting and tends to flare periodically. It may be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
Just remember, eczema is the itch that becomes a rash.
Ringworm is actually a skin infection caused by many types of fungus. It’s called ringworm because the infection causes a round ring-shaped rash.
Ringworm can occur anywhere on the body and is very itchy. Did you know both athlete’s foot and jock itch are types of ringworm?
How to Treat a Rash
Skin rashes caused by allergens typically respond well to over-the-counter itch medication and home treatment. If home remedies don’t provide relief or you don’t know what type of skin rash you have, medical treatment can help.
In many cases, the best treatment is to leave the rash alone.
Your rash will likely clear up without complications in 2-3 weeks as long as you are not re-exposed to the allergen.
- After exposure, wash the area with water to remove all traces of the irritant/allergen
- Applying moisturizers will help the skin moisten and speed up the healing process.
- Your healthcare provider may prescribe creams or ointments to help. Corticosteroid pills are reserved for only the most severe cases.
Contact your healthcare provider if treatment does not help, the symptoms worsen, or signs of infection such as fever, drainage, or swelling occur.
Depending on the severity of your rash, you may want to consider getting it examined by a medical professional. Urgent care centers, like GoHealth, are ideal for fast diagnosis and treatment.
If your rashes are recurring and severe, a medical professional may recommend a patch test.
A provider will apply small patches of allergens to your skin to test for reactions. Results are observed 48 hours after the exposure. A second observation after another 48 hours is also recommended to check for delayed reactions.
More serious conditions may warrant a skin biopsy.
Dermatitis and the Causes of Rashes
Unlike a bacterial or fungal infection, dermatitis is not contagious. Dermatitis often occurs when your skin touches an irritating substance in your physical environment. It can also be triggered by allergies, illness, and genetics.
Examples of substances that some people react to include:
- Adhesives (used for false eyelashes or toupees)
- Balsam of Peru
- Chemicals like hair dye and pesticides
- Fabrics and certain clothing
- Fabric softeners
- Fragrances (in perfumes, cosmetics, soap, moisturizers)
- Hair dye
- Metals like nickel - are found in jewelry, watches, zippers, bra hooks, buttons, lipstick, and makeup containers
- Nail polish
- Plants like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac
- Perm chemicals
- Rubber/Latex gloves
- Soaps, shampoos, and detergents (can be acidic/alkaline)
- Wet diapers (Long-term exposure)
- When exposed to sunlight, certain shaving lotions or sunscreens, sulfa ointments, some perfumes, coal tar or lime oil.
The most common dermatitis symptoms are redness and itching. You may also experience:
- Bumpy skin
- Oozing/weeping, draining or crusting
- Scaly, raw, rough or thicker skin
Types of Dermatitis
Dermatitis, which is the medical term for inflamed skin, is an umbrella term for several types of skin rashes.
Contact dermatitis is a common cause of many rashes. As the name implies, it occurs when you come into contact with a substance that irritates your skin. You may also develop contact dermatitis if you are exposed to a substance you’re allergic to.
Atopic dermatitis is another name for eczema. It’s caused by damage to the skin barrier, although environmental triggers can cause flare-ups. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include redness, dryness and itching.
Seborrheic dermatitis causes scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp. When the scalp is infected with seborrheic dermatitis, it can cause dandruff.
Besides the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis can also occur on oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest and back.
Treatment involves self-care and medicated shampoos, creams and lotions.
Identifying Other Rashes Not Related to Dermatitis
Although inflamed skin is a symptom of many types of rashes, not all rashes are a form of dermatitis.
Skin can become irritated by the seasons and temperature changes. You may also notice skin changes when you’re more stressed than usual. Rashes are also symptoms of some illnesses, like autoimmune conditions.
Let’s explore more of these causes in detail.
Is Heat Rash Eczema?
No. Heat rash is not dermatitis but rather a temperature-sensitive condition called miliaria. (Confusing, right?)
The small, red “heat rashes” typically found on the neck, groin, armpits and underneath the breasts are actually confined elevations of the skin, called papules. Nevertheless, they are skin rashes that can itch.
Miliaria is caused by blocks in your sweat glands, forcing sweat to leak deeper into the skin and provoke an inflammatory response—hence the redness.
This is why miliaria occurs more often in hot, dry climates and in children. Treating it is as easy as wearing lighter clothing to better regulate one’s temperature or applying calamine lotion.
What About Stress Rashes?
Stress can indeed cause rashes and hives.
When you are stressed, your body produces above-normal levels of cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can affect how your skin reacts, making it more sensitive and susceptible to skin ailments.
You may have noticed your skin “breaking out” in times of high stress. Rashes and hives are just another type of reaction. Though, for unknown reasons, it is not clear why stress exacerbates chronic skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.
Is Poison Ivy a Skin Rash?
Poison ivy is an allergic reaction to an oily substance secreted by the poison ivy plant. The primary symptom of this reaction is an itchy, red rash with blisters. Find how to treat it with our guide to poison ivy.
Is Psoriasis a Skin Rash?
Psoriasis is a skin ailment that causes rashes. It’s actually an autoimmune disease of the skin that forms thick, red, bumpy rashes with dry, silvery scales. The scales result from a buildup of skin cells. Infection, stress and genetics are thought to contribute to psoriasis.
Can Hay Fever Cause A Rash?
Yes. Similar to allergic dermatitis, hay fever rashes are caused when allergens come in contact with your skin. Be careful not to confuse them with hives, which are allergic reactions caused by ingestion or inhalation of allergens.
Winter Skin Rash
The cold air and low humidity of winter can strip your skin of its moisturizing oils, leading to dry skin, irritation, and rash. Using a moisturizing lotion would be the first action toward treatment.
Rare Skin Conditions People Don’t Know About
Although it’s easy to pinpoint the cause of common types of rashes, some skin conditions aren’t as easy to identify. They may not be well studied or are so rare that dermatologists may not be familiar with them.
Some less common skin conditions include:
- Pityriasis rosea causes an unsightly itchy, flaky, skin rash. The cause is not well understood, but it may be triggered by a viral infection. It usually goes away on its own, but steroid creams and antihistamines can help minimize discomfort.
- Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition of the skin and mucous membranes. It appears as purplish, itchy, flat-topped bumps. Flaky, white patches and painful sores can also appear on and around mucous membranes, such as the mouth. Lichen planus usually goes away on its own, but topical creams and oral antihistamines can help manage symptoms.
- Kawasaki's Disease is a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of the blood vessels. Early symptoms include a rash and fever. In later stages, there may be inflammation of the blood vessels called vasculitis. It also affects lymph nodes, skin and mucous membranes, such as inside the mouth. Kawasaki disease is usually treatable. Initial treatments include aspirin and IV immunoglobulin therapy.
- Shingles are a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body. Anyone who's had chickenpox may develop shingles; it isn't known what reactivates the virus. Shingles cause a painful rash that may appear as blisters around the trunk of the body. Pain can persist even after the rash is gone, which is called postherpetic neuralgia. Treatments include pain relief and antiviral medications such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. A chickenpox vaccine in childhood or a shingles vaccine in an adult can minimize the risk of developing shingles.
Diagnosing Skin Rashes and Dermatitis
Many types of skin rashes are simple to resolve, but some have underlying causes that are extremely complex.
If you get a rash that doesn’t seem to go away, consider visiting a GoHealth Urgent Care center. A healthcare provider can quickly identify a rash and let you know the best course of treatment. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
GoHealth Urgent Care partners with these regional healthcare providers:
- Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York
- Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in San Francisco
- Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Portland & Vancouver
- Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care in Connecticut
- Mercy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Arkansas, Springfield, St. Louis & Oklahoma
- Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in North Carolina
- Henry Ford -GoHealth Urgent Care in Michigan
- Memorial Hermann -GoHealth Urgent Care in Texas
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant