DefinitionRashes involve changes in the color or texture of your skin.
Skin redness or inflammation; Skin lesion; Rubor; Skin rash; Erythema
ConsiderationsOften, the cause of a rash can be determined from its visible characteristics and other symptoms.
A simple rash is called dermatitis, meaning inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis is caused by things your skin touches, such as:
Seborrheic dermatitis is a rash that appears in patches of redness and scaling around the eyebrows, eyelids, mouth, nose, the trunk, and behind the ears. If it happens on your scalp, it is called dandruff in adults and cradle cap in infants.
Age, stress, fatigue, weather extremes, oily skin, infrequent shampooing, and alcohol-based lotions aggravate this harmless but bothersome condition.
Other common causes of a rash include:
Many medical conditions can cause a rash as well. For example:
Most simple rashes will improve with gentle skin care and avoiding irritating substances. Follow these general guidelines:
Hydrocortisone cream (1%) is available without a prescription and may soothe many rashes. If you have eczema, apply moisturizers over your skin. Try oatmeal bath products, available at drugstores, to relieve symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, or shingles.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 if:
Call your health care provider if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include:
Tests may include:
Depending on the cause of your rash, treatments may include medicated creams or lotions, medications taken by mouth, or skin surgery.
Many primary care providers are comfortable dealing with common rashes, but for more complicated skin disorders, a referral to a dermatologist may be necessary.
Anderson BE, Marks JG Jr. Plant-induced dermatitis. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 57.
Cydulka RK, Garber B. Dermatologic presentations. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 118.
Armstrong CA. Examination of the skin and approach to diagnosing skin diseases. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 444.
Werth VP. Principles of therapy of skin diseases. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 445.
Review Date: 8/7/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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