image © K. Price
It has to do with changes in the color or texture of your skin. Also known by the names of Rubor, Erythema and skin lesions, you can usually tell the cause of a rash by how it looks as well as the symptoms you are experiencing.
Skin rash is a general term that means a red eruption of the skin, changing the way the skin looks and feels. Rashes can be localized to one area or they can be widespread, and can refer to many different skin conditions. Many medical conditions including Lupus, Kawasaki disease and Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a rash.
Viral rashes and Allergic Drug rashes usually appear everywhere as red, itchy bumps.
Examples of viral infections of the skin itself are herpes or shingles, a painful blistery skin condition similar to chickenpox, which can remain dormant in the system for years and re-emerge as shingles. They are mostly localized to one part of the body. Other viral rashes are more often symmetrical and appear everywhere. Patients with such rashes may or may not experience other viral symptoms like coughing, sneezing, or an upset stomach. These will typically be treated by attempting to relieve the itchiness, and usually last a few days to a week before going away on their own.
Most Allergic drug rashes start within two weeks of taking a new medication, even and especially if the person has taken the drug before. Doctors may recommend stopping a suspected drug to see if that helps. If the skin rash doesn't go away after about a week of not taking the medication, allergy is unlikely.
Although foods, soaps, and detergents are often blamed for widespread rashes, they are rarely the culprit.
(Urticaria) (photo at left) are itchy, red welts that come and go on various parts of the body. Most hives are not allergic. They run their course and disappear as mysteriously as they showed up.
A simple rash is called dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin.
Contact dermatitis is a rash that is caused either by contact with something irritating to the skin, like too-frequent hand washing, or with a specific material that causes allergy on the skin, such as:
Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed hypersensitive reaction that happens after coming in contact with an allergen. It affects just those parts of the skin touched by whatever material causes the allergy, as opposed to atopic dermatitis, which can be widespread because it's not an allergy to a specific substance.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammation that appears in red, scaly, almost greasy patches around the eyebrows, eyelids, mouth, nose, on the trunk, and behind the ears. Things like oily skin, extreme temperatures, stress, fatigue and lotions with an alcohol-based content will aggravate this condition. If it appears on the scalp, it is referred to as dandruff in adults and when babies get it, it’s called cradle cap.
Other scaly rashes include psoriasis (see photo below) and pityriasis rosea, which primarily affects young adults and teens, producing scaly patches on the chest and back areas, which usually disappear in about a month’s time. Xerosis, which is very dry skin may also appear as a skin rash during the cold, dry months of the year.
Scaly, itchy skin patches often represent one of the conditions referred to as eczema. Atopic dermatitis is perhaps the most common form of it. Effective treatment of eczema involves minimizing any irritation that is contributing to the problem as well as using prescription-strength cortisone creams.
"Atopic" refers to diseases that may be associated with allergies and tend to run in families. Atopic diseases also include asthma and hay fever. Atopic dermatitis is often worse during winter months, when the air is cold and dry. Frequent washing might irritate the skin and worsen the condition. Even though the skin feels dry, it really isn't. It’s inflamed, and simply moisturizing doesn't help much. Skin affected by atopic dermatitis becomes extremely itchy too. It may look red, swollen, and cracked. In some cases, the skin can also ooze and crust over.
Skin rash that shows scaly patches of skin can be produced by fungal or bacterial infection.
Fungal infections are pretty common but they don't appear anywhere near as often as rashes related to eczema. Fungi thrive in moist areas of the body where skin surfaces touch like between the toes, in the genital area, and under the breasts. These rashes look red and have pustules around the edges. Obese people are more likely to get these infections. Diabetics may also be prone to them. Many fungi that infect the skin (dermatophytes) live only in the top layer of the skin. For whatever reason, fungal infections on one part of the body can cause a skin rash on another part that's not infected. This is an allergic reaction to the fungus. Many effective antifungal creams can be bought at the drugstore without a prescription.
The most common bacterial infection of the skin is impetigo, which is caused by staph or strep germs and is more common in children than adults. It appears most often around the mouth and nose as red sores that turn into blisters, ooze, then crust over.
Electromagnetic fields have been known to cause skin rash, irritation, itch and numbness.
Many simple rashes will get better with gentle skincare and staying away from irritating substances. Also:
Avoid scrubbing your skin or rubbing it excessively.
Use as little soap as possible, as it can dry out your skin. Opt for a gentle cleansers instead.
Avoid applying lotions or ointments directly onto the rash.
Use only warm (not hot) water for showering and bathing.
Pat (don't rub) the skin when you're toweling off.
One by one, eliminate any newly added cosmetics or lotions to see which one is causing a problem.
Most skin rashes are not dangerous or contagious. One important exception is chickenpox. Many rashes will last for just a while and then get better on their own. That being said, symptoms like dry and/or itchy skin can be treated for a few days to see if the condition gets milder and disappears.