The only thing more startling than noticing a series of bumps or discoloration on your skin is not realizing what it is or how it got there. Skin rashes come in all shapes and sizes and can be caused by any number of things. It’s important to identify your condition and know when to seek care from a provider.
Dermatitis is a general term used to describe several rashes caused by allergy, inflammation or contact with a certain substance. Some of these skin rashes include eczema, dandruff and contact dermatitis. Certain medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, metal found in some kinds of jewelry or plants, such as poison ivy and poison oak, may incite skin allergies.
Symptoms to look for if you think you’re experiencing a dermatitis rash include discoloration of the skin and dry, itchy or cracked skin. In people with light skin, the rash is often red. In people with darker skin, it might appear purple, brown, gray or black. If your rash is caused by an allergy, you might also have some swelling or blisters at the site of the rash. Severe symptoms include pain, widespread swelling and oozing or crusting of the skin.
If you’re experiencing moderate symptoms, applying a thick layer of moisturizing cream or petroleum jelly to the affected area or taking an oatmeal bath may help to soothe the skin.
If your rash does not go away within two weeks, or if it gets worse, consult your healthcare provider. They may prescribe steroid cream or ointment, steroid pills or wet or damp dressings to combat a severe rash.
The shingles rash is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes the chickenpox rash. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus may become dormant in the body and reemerge as shingles later in life. It can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in those over 50 years old.
When shingles first develop, before you see a visible rash, you may experience itching, burning, pain or tingling of the skin. Some people also get a headache or fever. Within one to two days, a rash with blisters appears. Shingles can be painful and usually appear in a band around your waist, chest or back.
Within three to four days, these blisters can become open sores. These sores can sometimes become infected, so it’s important to keep the affected skin clean and dry. Within seven to 10 days, the rash should scab over and start to heal.
Some people can manage their pain with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, but in other cases, more powerful prescription drugs are necessary.
It’s rare, but shingles can be serious and lead to skin infections and eye or ear problems if left untreated. About one in 10 people with shingles will develop a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). People with PHN continue feeling pain or discomfort even after their rash goes away. This pain can last for months or even years. In some cases it can be so bad it affects sleep, causes weight loss and may lead to depression.
If you develop a rash you think may be shingles, call your provider right away. They will do an exam and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Pityriasis rosea is a harmless skin rash most common in older children and young adults that causes small, itchy, sometimes scaly, spots on the stomach, back, chest, arms and legs. Children may experience spots on their face or scalp. The rash usually lasts about four to six weeks, but may last up to a few months in some cases.
In most people, the rash starts as a single dot or patch, usually no larger than a half-dollar, and then multiplies. If you have light skin, the spots are usually pink or salmon-colored. If you have dark skin, the spots can be a red-brown color or darker than your skin.
Your provider will examine the rash and your symptoms to diagnose pityriasis rosea. Most people do not need any medical treatment, but your provider may prescribe creams or ointments to alleviate itching if symptoms are severe. Taking an oatmeal bath, applying unscented moisturizing lotion on the affected area and keeping your body temperature low may help soothe irritation.
In rare cases, providers may prescribe other medicines or a special type of light therapy called phototherapy.
Tinea (Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, Jock Itch)
Ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch, collectively known as tinea, are skin rashes caused by fungal infections.
Ringworm often appears as a ring-shaped, red, itchy rash on the skin, either on the body or the scalp. It’s most often spread from skin-to-skin contact with infected humans or animals. Despite the name, no actual worm is involved with ringworm. This condition can often be treated with topical antifungal creams, but severe cases may require antifungal pills prescribed by a provider.
Athlete’s foot usually starts as moist, raw skin between toes and may spread to the rest of the foot, causing flaky or scaly skin on the bottom of the foot. Other symptoms may include itching, burning or stinging. Athlete’s foot is easily cured with an antifungal cream but often reappears. It is contagious and can spread through direct contact with infected skin or surfaces.
Common in athletes, jock itch is a skin rash that shows up as red, itchy patches of skin, often in the groin area. If jock itch is not treated, it can easily spread to the inner thighs. Look for OTC gels, creams or powders labeled “for jock itch” in the pharmacy to kill the fungus. If symptoms do not subside after four weeks, or if you develop a fever, contact your provider.
Skin rashes can be irritating both physically and mentally. If your skin rash does not get better with OTC remedies, schedule an appointment online with a Portneuf primary care provider through MyChart today.