Your skin is surprisingly resistant to a wide variety of assaults, but it's still susceptible to various invaders. Viruses, parasites, fungi, heat and medications can all cause skin rashes and eruptions.
Though not life-threatening, rashes are often bothersome, uncomfortable or even
painful. Some, such as heat rash and swimmers' itch, clear up on their own. Others,
including rosacea and drug rashes, require medical treatment. Here are common skin
rashes, their causes and when you might need to see your doctor.
This form of dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, is a chronic condition that causes itchy, inflamed skin. Most often, it occurs in the folds of the elbows, backs of the knees or the front of the neck. It tends to flare periodically and then subside for a time, even up to several years. The exact cause of this skin disorder is unknown, but it may result from a malfunction in the body's immune system.
Even mild cases of atopic dermatitis can be extremely itchy. Self-care measures, such
as avoiding soaps or other irritants and applying creams or ointments, can help. See
your doctor if your symptoms distract you from your daily routines or prevent you
Named for its sweeping presentation, the Christmas tree rash is a fine, scaly rash that
ranges in color from pink to tan. It often starts as one larger spot at the spine or the
midline of the back or front of the body (herald patch) and spreads outward. The rash,
which may be caused by a virus, is usually only mildly itchy and may flake or peel.
This skin condition is common in teenagers and young adults and occurs more
frequently in the fall and spring. It usually resolves without treatment in four to six
weeks but can last up to 12 weeks. Contact your doctor if the rash is uncomfortable or
Contact with an irritant or allergen causes this form of dermatitis. Irritant contact
dermatitis (A) produces red, dry itchy patches usually on the hands, fingers and face.
Common irritants include soap, detergents and skin-cleaning products. Allergic
contact dermatitis (B) produces a red rash, bumps and sometimes blisters. Common
allergens include rubber, metals such as nickel, costume jewelry, perfume, cosmetics,
hair dyes and weeds such as poison ivy.
If you can identify and avoid the offending agent, the inflammation usually resolves without treatment in two to three weeks. See your doctor if your symptoms continue beyond that time frame or if the rash is uncomfortable or painful.
Any medication can produce a drug rash \u2014 an allergic reaction to a medication. But the most common culprits include antibiotics, anti-seizure medications and diuretics. The rash usually starts within two weeks of taking a new medication and begins as discrete red spots that spread, covering large areas of the body.
A drug rash could be a part of a more serious and potentially life-threatening allergic
reaction. Contact your doctor promptly if you experience a rash after taking a
medication. He or she can determine a treatment option that likely includes an
alternative medication. A drug rash usually resolves one to three weeks after
discontinuing the medication.
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