Rashes can cause irritation and discomfort. Rashes in highly visible places such as your hands or face can even cause embarrassment. Fortunately, most rashes are mild and not cause for concern. You can usually treat a rash with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies.
However, there are some rashes that a healthcare professional should look at. These rashes can be a sign of an infection, allergic reaction, or illness. You can read 12 common signs that a rash could be a sign of something more serious below.
An area of your skin that is itchy, irritated, and swollen is called a rash. A rash may be raised, bumpy, swollen, or patchy.
Rashes can look different depending on your skin tone. People with lighter skin often see pink, red, or purple rashes. People with darker skin may develop rashes that are white, gray, or darker than the surrounding skin.
Rashes can be caused by many factors, including:
- underlying health problems
- Sun exposure
- allergic reactions
- weather situation
Rashes are very common. Many types of rashes are mild and can be treated with over-the-counter medications. For example, contact dermatitis is a rash you get when your skin touches something that is itchy and irritated.
If you’ve ever had a rash from a new laundry detergent, lotion, or soap, your rash was likely contact dermatitis. A contact dermatitis rash will be inflamed and itchy. It will usually be contained in the part of your skin that affected the irritant.
Avoiding the item in the future and using an over-the-counter itch cream is normally sufficient to treat contact dermatitis.
Other common rashes in adults include:
- Urticaria. Often caused by an allergic reaction to drugs, food, or drink, hives appear as patches, itches, and spots and often spreads quickly.
- Shingles. Caused by the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox, shingles is often painful and forms patches of skin with bumps that blister and itch. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles.
- Chronic rashes. Conditions such as eczema or psoriasis can cause chronic rashes that can flare up when triggered. A dermatologist can help you manage these conditions.
Sometimes a rash is a sign that something bad is going on with your body. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any rash you develop and watch for these signs. Seek medical attention if any of them develop.
1. You have a fever
Fever is a key sign that a rash should be looked at by a doctor. It could be a sign of an allergic reaction. A fever accompanied by a rash may also indicate an infection such as:
2. The rash spreads
Another sign that it is time to see a doctor is a rash that spreads. A rash that spreads quickly can be a medical emergency. It’s best to go to an emergency care center or emergency room if your rash is spreading quickly.
If your rash is spreading more slowly but spreading over your body, it’s always a good idea to examine it. This can be a warning that your rash is caused by an allergic reaction or infection.
3. The skin area hurts
A painful rash should be examined by a healthcare practitioner. It could be infected or a sign of conditions such as shingles.
It is best to also watch for any rash that is not painful but is tender when pressed. This could be a sign of infection, and you’ll want to get it checked out if it doesn’t resolve itself after a day or two.
4. The rash appeared suddenly
A rash that comes on suddenly can be an allergic reaction to a drug. Sometimes a rash can develop in the first few weeks after starting a new medication. Tell a healthcare professional about this side effect as soon as possible.
It is important to be careful when a rash is caused by an allergic-mediated reaction. This type of reaction can cause breathing difficulty and can become a medical emergency.
5. The rash begins to swell
Sometimes rashes caused by sun exposure or poison ivy can form blisters. These rashes usually heal on their own in most cases.
However, unless you are sure your rash was caused by the sun or poison ivy, any rash that is blistering should be looked at by a doctor. This could be a sign that your rash is a serious allergic reaction to a drug or caused by an autoimmune disease called pemphigus vulgaris.
6. You see signs of infection in the rash
Rashes damage the surface of your skin. This can make it easier for infections to develop, especially if you scratch the area of the rash. An infected rash should be examined by a healthcare practitioner. Signs that a rash is infected:
- rash crusts
- yellow discharge
- green dump
- a bad smell
7. You have difficulty breathing
This is a medical emergency. Call 911 or seek treatment immediately. A rash and difficulty breathing may be signs of a serious allergic reaction. It can happen when you eat or drink something you are allergic to.
8. The rash looks like large purple patches.
A rash that looks like large purple spots or dark bruises can be a sign of a serious condition. This could be a warning sign of an infection spreading throughout your body or a problem with the blood clotting. It could also indicate a condition called vasculitis which causes inflammation of the blood vessels.
A healthcare professional can determine the cause of this rash and begin treatment.
9. Bruises form in or around the rash
A rash with bruising or swelling around it may have been caused by an insect bite. It is a good idea to see a doctor if you notice this symptom. The bruising and swelling are a warning that the poison from the bite could cut off blood flow to the area.
10. The rash is in the shape of a circle
A circular rash could indicate Lyme disease. Caused by ticks, Lyme disease normally causes a rash that looks like bull’s eye and flu-like symptoms. Antibiotics are the main treatment for Lyme disease, so you will need to see a doctor for a diagnosis and a prescription.
11. You have had the rash for more than a week
A rash that lasts for more than a week is worth examining by a healthcare professional. There may be a reason why your body is having a hard time healing the rash. Also, even if your rash is mild, a healthcare professional can give you advice on how to treat it at home.
12. The rash is causing you discomfort or worry.
It is a good idea to have any rash that is causing you discomfort or significant concern to have a dermatologist or other healthcare professional examined. Although it could be simple contact dermatitis, it is always a good idea to see a doctor.
Rashes are a common skin condition. Most rashes are temporary and go away on their own. However, a rash can be a sign of something more serious.
Allergic reactions, infections, autoimmune diseases and the like can also cause rashes which should be examined by a healthcare professional.
Rash associated with difficulty breathing, fever, dizziness, or nausea is a medical emergency.