What Exactly Is A Rash?
A rashis 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.
Wait...What’s Eczema Then?
Eczema is just the nonspecific name of the group of diseases that result in inflammation of the skin.
The red, bumpy skin we associate as 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.
Like the name implies, this often itchy condition can be caused by contact with a substance.
There are two types:
- Soaps, shampoos, and detergents (can be acidic/alkaline)
- Fabric softeners
- Chemicals like hair dye and pesticides
- Rubber gloves
- Wet diapers (Long-term Exposure)
- Adhesives (used for false eyelashes or toupees)
- Balsam of Peru
- Fabrics and certain clothing
- Fragrances (in perfumes, cosmetics, soap, moisturizers)
- Hair dye
- Nail polish
- Perm chemicals
- Metals like nickel - found in jewelry, watches, zippers, bra hooks, buttons, lipstick and makeup containers
- Plants like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac
- Rubber/Latex gloves
- When exposed to sunlight, certain shaving lotions or sunscreens, sulfa ointments, some perfumes, coal tar or lime oil.
- Itchy bumps on skin
- Red skin rash
- Blisters that may weep
- Oozing, draining, or crusting
- Scaly, raw, rough or thicker skin
Exam and Treatment
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 are severe, consider 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 another 48 hours is also recommended to check for delayed reactions.
More serious conditions may warrant a skin biopsy.
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 the healing process.
- Your 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.
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.
These are just types of skin ailments that are related to rashes.
Psoriasisis an autoimmune disease of the skin that forms thick, red, bumpy rashes with silvery scales. Your immune system actually is the source of the inflammation that causes psoriasis and its characteristic overproduction of skin cells.
Rosaceais a condition characterized by facial redness. When triggered, blood vessels near the surface of the skin expands. It is often a non-itchy rash.
Can Hay Fever Cause A Rash?
Similar to allergic dermatitis, hay fever rashes are caused when allergens come in contact with your skin. Careful not to confuse them with hives, which are allergic reactions caused by ingestion or inhalation of allergens.
How About A Cold Climate?
Also yes. This is known as winter skin rash.
The cold air and low humidity of winter can strip your skin of it’s moisturizing oils, leading to dry skin, irritation, and rash. Using a moisturizing lotion would be the first action toward treatment.
What else might it be?
Amongst all the common things that might happen to your skin, there are still conditions not well studied or have such rare cases that knowing they even exist as different ailments can be hard for today's dermatologists.
Pityriasis rosea – the cause is not well understood, but it may be triggered by a viral infection.
The condition causes an slightly itchy, flaky, skin rash and usually goes away on its own.
Steroid creams and antihistamines can help minimalize discomfort.
Lichen planus – it is an inflammatory condition of the skin and mucous membranes.
It appears as purplish, itchy, flat-topped bumps. On mucous membranes, such as in the mouth, it forms flaky, white patches. Sometimes, painful sores resembling cold sores also appear around the mouth.
Lichen planus usually goes away on its own. If symptoms are bothersome, and topical creams and oral antihistamines can be helpful.
Kawasakis Disease – ia a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of the blood vessels.
Early stages 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 – is a reactivation of the chickenpox virus in the body, causing a painful rash.
Anyone who's had chickenpox may develop shingles; it isn't known what reactivates the virus.
Shingles causes a painful rash that may appear as blisters around the trunk of the body. Pain can persist even after the rash is gone (this 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 as an adult can minimize the risk of developing shingles.
– is a skin condition that causes scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp. It can also occur on oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest, and back.
In addition to red, scaly patches, seborrheic dermatitis can cause dandruff due to the scalp being the infected region.
Treatment involves self-care and medicated shampoos, creams, and lotions.
Rashes may seem like simple blemishes but the causes under the skin can be extremely complex. If you get a rash that doesn’t seem to go away, consider seeing a healthcare provider at an urgent care center. Rashes are the perfect example of an ailment that can be quickly diagnosed, letting you know right away if it’s serious or not.