Slide show: Common skin rashes
Skin rashes can occur from a variety of factors, including infections, heat, allergens, immune system disorders and medications. One of the most common skin disorders that causes a rash is atopic dermatitis (ay-TOP-ik dur-muh-TI-tis), also known as eczema.
Atopic dermatitis is an ongoing (chronic) condition that makes skin red and itchy. Most often it appears as patches on the hands, feet, ankles, neck, upper body and limbs. It tends to flare up periodically and then subside for a time.
At-home interventions can lessen symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups. Self-care habits include avoiding harsh soaps and other irritants and applying creams or lotions regularly. Medicated anti-itch creams or ointments also can ease the discomfort caused by symptoms.
Christmas tree rash (pityriasis rosea)
Christmas tree rash (pityriasis rosea) is a fine, itchy, scaly rash that usually appears first as a single patch on the chest, abdomen or back. This rash (herald patch) may spread as small patches to other parts of the back, chest and neck. The rash may form a pattern on the back that resembles a Christmas tree.
Pityriasis rosea usually goes away without treatment in four to 10 weeks, but it can last months. Medicated lotions may lessen itchiness and speed the disappearance of the rash. Often, though, no treatment is required.
Contact dermatitis is a rash caused by direct contact with or an allergic reaction to certain substances. Irritant contact dermatitis (A) usually produces a dry, scaly, non-itchy rash. Many substances, such as cleaning products or industrial chemicals, that you come into contact with cause this condition. The irritant will cause a rash on anyone exposed to it, but some people's skin may be more easily affected.
Allergic contact dermatitis (B) produces a very itchy, red rash with bumps and sometimes blisters. Common allergy-causing agents (allergens) are latex rubber, nickel and poison ivy. Allergic contact dermatitis develops after your initial exposure to the allergen.
To treat your rash, try to figure out what caused it and avoid that substance. You can also apply medicated cream to ease the discomfort of your symptoms.
A rash may occur as a side effect of taking a drug or as an allergic reaction to it. A drug rash may be caused by many different medications, including antibiotics and water pills (diuretics). Some drugs are more likely to produce a rash if the skin is exposed to sunlight.
A drug rash, which usually starts within the first week of taking a new medication, often begins as red spots. The spots spread and merge, covering large areas of the body. If you stop taking the drug that caused the rash, it will usually clear up in days to weeks.
Rarely, a drug rash is part of a more serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that affects the respiratory system and other organs. These severe reactions require emergency care.
Heat rash (miliaria)
Heat rash (miliaria) occurs when the flow of sweat is obstructed, usually due to hot, humid weather or overdressing.
Prickly heat (miliaria rubra) (A) is a type of heat rash that appears as clusters of small, red bumps that produce a pricking or stinging sensation. Miliaria crystalline (B) appears as clear, fluid-filled bumps that generally produce no other signs or symptoms.
Heat rash isn't serious and usually resolves when the affected area cools. Cool compresses or a cool bath might help. You can prevent heat rash by wearing loose, lightweight clothing and avoiding excessive heat and humidity.
Intertrigo (in-tur-TRY-go) is inflammation caused by skin-to-skin friction, most often in warm, moist areas of the body, such as the groin, between folds of skin on the abdomen, under the breasts, under the arms or between toes. The affected skin may be sensitive or painful, and severe cases can result in oozing sores, cracked skin or bleeding.
Intertrigo usually clears up if you find a way to keep the affected areas as clean and dry as possible. Try wearing loosefitting clothing and using powder to reduce skin-to-skin friction in affected areas. Weight loss may be helpful as well.
Sometimes, a bacterial or fungal infection can develop at the site of your intertrigo. If this happens, you may need a medication to heal your skin.
Lichen planus (LIE-kun PLAY-nus) is an inflammatory condition that can affect your skin and mucous membranes. On the skin it usually appears as purplish, often itchy, flat-topped bumps (lesions). In your mouth, vagina and other areas covered by a mucous membrane, lichen planus forms lacy white patches.
The condition may develop gradually over a couple of months. After that, it rarely worsens, but it may persist for months or years. You can usually control mild lichen planus symptoms on the skin, such as stinging and itching, by applying cool compresses or aloe vera gel. More-severe symptoms may require drug treatment. Lesions on mucous membranes tend to take longer to heal and often recur.
Psoriasis (suh-RIE-uh-sis) is the rapid buildup of rough, scaly skin that occurs when the life cycle of skin cells rapidly increases. The extra skin skin cells form thick, silvery scales and red patches that are itchy and sometimes painful.
The condition tends to flare up periodically and then subside for a time.
For some people, psoriasis is a mild nuisance. For others, it can be disabling, affecting extensive areas of skin for long periods and often occurring with a distinct type of arthritis (psoriatic arthritis). Topical medications and light therapy may help reduce signs and symptoms of the skin lesions.
Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis)
Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) is a fungal infection that appears as itchy, red, scaly, slightly raised, rings on the body. The ring grows outward as the infection spreads, and the center area becomes less actively infected.
Ringworm often spreads by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or animal. Treatment usually requires prescription antifungal medication that you apply to your skin.
A tinea infection in the groin is called jock itch (tinea cruris), and a tinea infection of the foot is called athlete's foot (tinea pedis).
Rosacea (roe-ZAY-she-uh) is a long-term (chronic) skin condition of adults that causes redness in the face and may produce small red or pus-filled bumps.
Most people experience occasional flare-ups, usually in response to factors that increase blood flow to the surface of your skin. Triggers vary from person to person. Possible triggers include certain foods, skin products, extreme temperatures, alcohol consumption, emotional stress and sun exposure.
Rosacea has no cure, but treatments may control or reduce your signs and symptoms.
Shingles (herpes zoster)
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a pain rash caused by the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus. If you've ever had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in nerve tissue. Years later, the virus may reactivate, causing shingles.
A shingles outbreak may start with vaguely uncomfortable sensations, itching or pain with no obvious external cause. Within several days, clusters of small blisters — similar to the chickenpox rash — appear in a defined area on one side of your body. Over a few more days, the blisters break, leaving behind sores that crust over. Within about four weeks, the crusts fall off, and the pain and itching usually go away.
Antiviral drugs may lessen your pain or decrease the likelihood of persistent pain after the rash has healed. A shingles vaccine is recommended for most people age 60 or over.
Swimmer's itch (cercarial dermatitis)
Swimmer's itch (cercarial dermatitis) is a burning or itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction to a waterborne parasite that burrows into the top layer of skin. The parasites soon die, but you're temporarily left with tiny bumps or blisters.
Swimmer's itch isn't serious and usually clears up on its own within a week. At-home remedies — soothing lotions, lukewarm baths with colloidal oatmeal or baking soda — may ease the itchiness.
Last Updated Sep 28, 2019