Have a rash but not sure if you need to go to the clinic or hospital to see a doctor? Now, you don’t need to leave home to find your answer. Below is a general overview of what to do if you have a rash. If this doesn’t solve your problem, we’ll help you quickly consult a doctor, wherever you are. Say goodbye to your rash!
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What is a rash?
Our skin cells protect the skin and body against viruses, bacteria, and other threats. Whenever these cells detect a suspicious substance, they begin a chain reaction in the skin that leads to inflammation (as is the case with allergies, the body tricks itself into believing something is dangerous when it’s not). The medical name for this reaction is dermatitis. But it’s more commonly referred to as a rash.
A rash is an area of irritated or swollen skin: any sort of inflammation or discoloration that changes the skin's normal appearance. The most common rashes are itchy, red, painful, and irritating. Some rashes can also lead to blisters or patches of raw skin. To the untrained eye, all rashes may look alike and seem easily treatable with over-the-counter oral antihistamines or hydrocortisone cream. Dermatologists want you to know that it’s not always so simple: rashes are a symptom of many different medical problems. This is why it’s important to stay vigilant. Nonetheless, for most of us, rashes are simply caused by irritating substances and allergies.
Common rashes to be aware of.
There are many different types of dermatitis, and each has a distinct set of treatments. Sometimes the skin’s immune cells react to something that directly touches the skin. Other times, the immune system flares in the skin because of a whole-body infection or illness.
Irritant contact dermatitis
This type is more common. It develops when something irritates the skin. With enough contact, most things will irritate our skin. Many substances, such as cleaning products or industrial chemicals, that you come into contact with cause this condition. The irritant will cause a rash on anyone exposed to it, but some people's skin may be more easily affected. People often get this rash at work. Beauticians, swimmers, nurses, bartenders, and others who spend lots of time with wet hands get this. It often starts with dry, cracked hands. In time, the skin on their hands may begin to sting and burn. The skin becomes very tender. Sometimes, the skin itches and bleeds.
Common conditions and irritants include:
- Irritated skin around the mouth from licking your lips
- Dry, cracked hands due to lots of contact with water
- Pepper spray
- Battery acid
Allergic contact dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis produces a very itchy, red rash with bumps and sometimes blisters. The rash arises when the skin comes in contact with an allergen, a usually harmless substance that the immune system attacks. Allergens trigger allergic reactions. Allergens can come from certain soaps, creams, and even pets.
Common allergens that cause a rash include:
- Latex gloves
- Poison ivy
- Seldom used makeup
The key is to avoid known triggers. Even if you're treating your allergy symptoms with medication, try to avoid triggers. If, for instance, you're allergic to pollen, stay inside with windows and doors closed when pollen levels are high. If you're allergic to dust mites, keep the places you frequent very clean. This means vacuuming, dusting, and washing bedding and other linens often.
The appearance of eczema can vary from person to person. In adults, eczema occurs most frequently on the hands and elbows, and in areas where friction occurs from the bending of joints such as the inside of the elbows and back of the knees. In children, eczema is often seen on the face, neck, and scalp– in addition to where it is seen in adults. Signs and symptoms of atopic eczema include:
- Skin redness
- Dry, scaly, or crusted skin that might become thick and leathery from long-term scratching
- Formation of small, fluid-filled blisters that might ooze when scratched
- Infection of the areas where the skin has been broken
Atopic eczema can be treated with medications, including over-the-counter creams and ointments containing the steroid hydrocortisone. These products may help control the itching, swelling, and redness associated with eczema. Prescription-strength cortisone creams, as well as cortisone pills and shots, are also used for more severe cases of eczema.
Pityriasis rosea (pit-uh-rahy-uh-sis row-zee-ah)
Pityriasis rosea is a common skin disease that causes a rash. It typically manifests with the following symptoms: initial oval-shaped spot on your back, abdomen, or chest; rash on your body that resembles a pine tree; variable itching where the rash appears.
Dermatologists are still uncertain as to what causes this, but the main suspicion is virus. The condition will likely clear up on its own within six to eight weeks. If the rash lasts longer, or the pain is making your life difficult, you should probably see a doctor. Once the pityriasis rosea rash clears, you’ll most likely never experience it again.
When to consult a doctor and other treatment options
Because rashes can be caused by many environmental and internal factors, it's important to attempt to pinpoint what kind you have before you treat it. If it does not go away, or if you have other symptoms, you should see a specialist.
Treatments may include baths, lotions, moisturizers, cortisone creams that relieve swelling, and antihistamines, which relieve itching. But you have to be careful with these as well because if you use the wrong approach it could make your condition even more uncomfortable.
Although most rashes are not life-threatening, some rashes can signal something more serious. If you have a rash and notice any of the following symptoms, go to a doctor or the emergency room immediately:
- debilitating pain
- rash appears suddenly and spreads rapidly
- rash covers your entire body
- difficulty breathing: go to the emergency room or call 995 (or whatever the emergency ambulance telephone number is in your country).
- blistering of your rash
- infection of your rash. Signs of an infected rash are yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting, pain and warmth in the area of the rash, or a red streak coming from the rash.
- fever. If you have a fever combined with a rash, your conditions is likely very serious. Don't take any risks, go to the emergency room.
If you're unsure what to do about your rash, you can use RingMD to consult a doctor without spending a lot of time or energy. You can see a doctor from the comfort of your own home, or wherever you may find yourself, using RingMD’s new instant call feature or by scheduling an appointment with a doctor through our global online directory of world-class doctors.
Connect with a doctor on RingMD. Why leave home to see a doctor if you don't have to? See a doctor online now. When appropriate, the doctor is able to provide you with a signed Medical Certificate (MC) via email if they believe you need one for work or school reasons.
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