Rashes involve changes in the color, feeling or texture of your skin.
Skin redness or inflammation; Skin lesion; Rubor; Skin rash; Erythema
Often, the cause of a rash can be determined from how it looks and its symptoms. Skin testing, such as a biopsy, may also be used to help with diagnosis. Other times, the cause of the rash remains unknown.
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, 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. These include:
Most simple rashes will improve with gentle skin care and by avoiding irritating substances. Follow these general guidelines:
Hydrocortisone cream (1%) is available without a prescription and may soothe many rashes. Stronger cortisone creams are available with a prescription. If you have eczema, apply moisturizers over your skin. Try oatmeal bath products, available at drugstores, to relieve symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, or shingles. Oral antihistamines may help relieve itchy skin.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 if:
Call your health care provider if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will perform a physical examination and ask 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, medicines taken by mouth, or skin surgery.
Many primary care providers are comfortable dealing with common rashes. For more complicated skin disorders, you may need a referral to a dermatologist.
James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Cutaneous signs and diagnosis. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 2.
Shaw JC. Examination of the skin and an approach to diagnosing skin diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 436.
Review Date: 10/14/2018
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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