From blotches and bumps to blisters and hives, skin rashes come in all shapes and sizes. And their symptoms can run the gamut, from annoying and unpleasant to painful and persistent.
Whether a rash is a mild reaction to something in the garden or a flare-up that signals an underlying condition, it’s helpful to know what you’re dealing with, how you can treat it at home and when to seek medical care.
What are the most common types of rashes?
Your skin is your largest organ, and there are loads of things can make it redden and itch and leave you scratching your head wondering why. At Indigo Health, here are some of the most common rashes we see:
- Contact dermatitis. Skin rashes most commonly occur because of direct contact with an irritant or allergen.
- Irritants are the cause of 80% of contact dermatitis. Common culprits include detergents, soaps, cleaners and acid. A painful rash will usually appear quickly at the contact site.
- When your body has an allergic reaction to something, it may take time for a rash to develop. Common allergens include fragrances, metals, poison ivy, medications and preservatives.
Common rash symptoms include:
- Dry, scaly or cracked skin
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Burning and tenderness
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis). This common inflammatory skin condition affects millions of people in the U.S. and usually develops in early childhood. Nearly half of eczema sufferers will outgrow the noncontagious condition by adolescence or adulthood.
An eczema rash can pop up anywhere, but most often appears on the arms or behind the knees.
General rash symptoms include:
- Dry, scaly or leathery skin
- Open, crusted or weeping sores
Eczema often affects people who have seasonal allergies, hay fever or asthma, and those who have a family history of the condition. A rash may be triggered by certain foods, smoke, pollen, soaps and fragrances.
- Shingles. Anyone who has had a case of chickenpox—a virus that stays in the body and can be reactivated—is at risk of getting this viral infection and the painful rash that comes with it.
- Early signs of shingles include itching or tingling in the affected area.
- Within 1 to 14 days, a rash will appear on one side of the torso or face.
- The rash will blister and typically scab over within 7 to 10 days and fully clear up within 2 to 4 weeks.
- Nerve pain may continue in the same area after the rash goes away.
Shingles is most common in older adults. It is not contagious, but the virus that causes shingles can be passed to someone who has never had chickenpox or its vaccine.
Indy tip: Vaccination is the best defense against shingles. The two-dose Shingrix vaccine, recommended for adults over the age of 50, is shown to be 90% effective in preventing the virus and its complications. Chat with an Indigo Health provider to learn more.
- Hand, foot and mouth disease. This mild viral infection, common in children under 5, can cause mouth sores and a skin rash.
- Sores will first appear as small dots on the tongue and inside of the mouth, then blister and become painful.
- Flat or slightly raised red spots typically appear on the palm of the hands and soles of the feet, but can also show up on the arms, legs and buttocks. Blisters may sometimes form and scab. The rash is usually not itchy.
- Children may also develop fever and flu-like symptoms.
The disease is not serious, but it is highly contagious and spreads quickly in schools and daycare centers.
- Insect bites. When a big takes a bite, the body reacts to the insect’s saliva. Bed bugs, mites, fleas, mosquitos and certain flies are the most common biting insects known to cause a rash.
Symptoms of an insect-bite rash may include:
- A small red bump at the bite site
- Localized itchy, red welts (hives)
- Fluid-filled blisters
Most reactions to insect bites are mild, but some may be more dramatic while others can lead to serious problems, including bacterial skin infections:
- Impetigo is caused by scratching or picking at bites. Symptoms include sores, scabs and pus.
- Cellulitis is marked by spreading redness that is painful to the touch.
Tick bites usually cause minor irritation, but a rash may appear if you’re allergic or you’ve been bitten by a tick that is infected. Learn more about tick bites, including the common diseases they can carry.
Skin rashes can also be caused by:
- Other childhood diseases, including roseola, fifth disease, chickenpox, measles, rubella and scarlet fever.
- Rosacea, is common a skin condition that causes redness and small, pus-filled bumps on the face.
- Fungal infections, including ringworm, athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Can COVID-19 cause a rash?
Like other viral infections, such as measles and chickenpox, COVID can also affect the skin.
Some people with COVID have developed various forms of rashes, from raised, itchy bumps to lace-like patterns on the skin. A condition called “COVID toes”, which may appear on the toes, fingers or both, can cause purplish discoloration, swelling and round spots.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association offers helpful information about COVID-related rashes.
What’s the best home treatment for a rash?
Most simple rashes will improve with gentle skin care and by avoiding irritating substances. When treating rashes at home, follow these general guidelines:
- Use mild cleansers and avoid scented soap.
- Wash skin with lukewarm water. Pat dry and avoid rubbing.
- Use over-the-counter remedies to ease symptoms, including.
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Calamine lotion
- Nonprescription oral antihistamines, such as loratadine (Alavert, Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy)
- Soak in an oatmeal bath to soothe itch and irritation.
- For insect bites and stings, apply cold compresses to relieve redness and swelling.
- Avoid covering the rash with gauze or clothing.
- Stop using makeup or lotion that may have triggered the rash.
- Avoid scratching. Scratching the rash could make it worse and lead to infection.
When should I see a doctor for my rash?
Most rashes can be treated at home. But in some cases, a rash could indicate an underlying condition, infection or serious allergic reaction.
You should seek medical care if your rash:
- Covers your entire body.
- Appears suddenly and spreads quickly.
- Begins to blister.
- Is shaped like a bullseye (a sign of Lyme disease)
- Is accompanied by a fever or pain.
- Shows signs of infection (pus, swelling, crusting, warmth or extreme pain).
- Doesn’t respond to over-the-counter creams or antihistamines.
- Impairs your daily activities.
- Developed during pregnancy.
Call 911 or visit your nearest emergency department right away if you have difficulty breathing, your throat tightens, or your tongue begins to swell.
Don’t let a worrisome rash sidetrack your outdoor adventure or keep you or your kiddo up at night itching. Our Indigo Health providers are here to get to the root of your rash and help ease its uncomfortable symptoms.
And you don’t have to wait for relief. With 24/7 online care and more than 35 convenient neighborhood locations open 8 am to 8 pm every day, it’s easy to get the fast, friendly and convenient care you need, whenever or wherever you are.
We’ll assess your rash symptoms, provide a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan, and follow up to see how you’re doing. And if you need to see a specialist, leave the referral to us.