Nothing is scarier than that moment you look down at your arm, leg, or chest and see that something is wrong with your skin. Our skin is the most obvious way of figuring out that we have a medical problem, so whenever we see any changes on our skin (whether that be moles, bumps, you name it) we have a tendency to freak out.
Now, rashes are never fun, but they also don’t mean disaster every time. There are a wide array of rashes that come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures, and each of them can indicate that different things are going on below the surface.
So before you go on WebMD to totally freak yourself out, check out our Rashes 101 guide below! It has everything you need to know about basic rashes and what they might mean.
What IS a Rash?
It’s important to know that “a rash” is not a specific diagnosis; there are many types of rashes, and they’re typically a symptom of some larger issue. Infections that cause rashes may be fungal, bacterial, parasitic, or viral. The umbrella term “rash” refers to any sort of skin inflammation and/or discoloration that distorts the skin’s normal appearance.
To give you an idea of how unalarming rashes can be, know that common things like eczema, poison ivy, hives, and athlete’s foot are considered “rashes”. Having a rash doesn’t always mean the worse. However, it is important to figure out what type of rash you’re experiencing to get down to the larger problem.
Bottom line: Having a rash doesn’t always mean the worse. However, it is important to figure out what type of rash you’re experiencing to get down to the issue. To help you do just that, here are the most common rashes experienced by adults.
Seborrheic dermatitis is the single most common rash affecting adults. It produces a red, itchy rash that characteristically affects the scalp, forehead, brows, cheeks, and external ears, although it can crop up anywhere on the body. At its essence, this rash manifests itself as severe dandruff and can be treated as such at home with medicated shampoos or moisturizers.
Newborns and adults age 30-60 are most likely to get this rash.
Although the exact cause of this common rash is unknown, experts believe it could stem from:
- A yeast that lives on the skin
- Certain medical conditions/medicines
- Cold, dry weather
Atopic dermatitis, often called eczema, is a common disorder of childhood which produces red, itchy, flaky, and occasionally oozing rashes on the elbows and the back of the knees. Less commonly, it can appear on the cheeks, neck, wrists, and ankles.
The condition is commonly found in patients who also have asthma or hay fever and is thought to be passed on genetically.
Eczema is something that can follow a child into adulthood, and it often does. However, there are plenty of at-home and drugstore remedies for this common affliction, including:
- Topical ointments
- Coal tar extract
Contact dermatitis is a rash that is brought on either by contact with a specific chemical that you’re allergic to or with a substance that directly irritates the skin. Some chemicals are both irritants and allergens.
This rash tends to be oozy, inflamed and itchy. It will only affect the parts of the skin which have come in direct contact with the offending substance. Common examples of allergic contact dermatitis are:
- Poison ivy
- Poison oak
- Poison sumac
- Costume jewelry containing nickel
Medicated itch creams or witch hazel are great, inexpensive treatments for contact dermatitis.
This may sound like a rash that’s exclusive to children, but diaper rash is common with adults who wear adult diapers, too. This type of irritant contact dermatitis occurs when feces and urine are in contact with skin for too long.
Some simple solutions to this rash are:
- Airing out the area
- Frequent diaper changes
- Petroleum jelly
- Barrier cream
This is an oozy, swollen dermatitis that occurs on the lower legs of individuals who have chronic swelling because of poor circulation in veins. This is a rash commonly found is individuals with poor blood pressure or diabetes. Stasis can also be caused by a retention of fluid, something that can become infected if not watched.
Although this rash is not curable, there are many treatments:
- Compression socks
- Petroleum jelly
- Barrier cream
- Prescribed steroids
This is a rash that should be brought to the attention of primary care provider, vascular doctor, or even dermatologist.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that appears as itchy, red, scaly, slightly raised, expanding rings anywhere on the body. The ring grows outward as the infection spreads, and the center area becomes less actively infected.
Ringworm is very contagious. You can catch the infection through contact with an infected person or animal; the fungal infection is commonly spread by cats and dogs, so pet owners, beware. You can also contract ringworm just by coming into close contact with contaminated objects, such as unwashed clothing or bedding.
Treatment usually requires prescription antifungal medication.
This bumpy, scaling rash (which does not ooze) tends to occur on the scalp, elbows, and knees. It produces silvery flakes of skin that scale and fall off, and the rash often forms in patches.
Unlike many of the other rashes on this list, psoriasis can cause other internal symptoms that could affect your quality of life, such as:
- Joint pain
- Dents in nails
- Inflamed tendons
Unfortunately, psoriasis is incurable, however, there are many prescription and at-home treatments. Some treatments your doctor may suggest are:
- Vitamin A supplements
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immunosuppressive drugs
Some treatments you can use right at home are:
- Coal tar extract
- Light therapy
- Petroleum jelly
- Stress management
Certain drugs (like antibiotics or chemotherapy) can produce a red, slightly raised skin rash as an unwanted side effect. Only 2% of modern drugs can cause this type of rash and most cases are mild – however, if left unchecked for a long period of time, this rash could become severe. When drug eruptions become more serious, fever and other organ involvement are common.
The only way to treat/avoid drug eruptions is to determine which drug is causing the outbreak and stop the use of said drug.
These red, itchy bumps come on very quickly and then resolve in about eight hours. They tend to recur frequently and are usually associated with some kind of allergic reaction.
Typically, hives go away on their own, but cool compresses or anti-histamine medication can be used if necessary.
Rosacea is a chronic, long-term skin condition of adults that causes redness in the face and may produce small red or pus-filled bumps.
Most people experience occasional flare-ups, usually in response to triggers that increase blood flow to the surface of your skin. Possible triggers include:
- Certain foods
- Skin products
- Extreme temperatures
- Alcohol consumption
- Emotional stress
- Sun exposure
Rosacea has no cure, but treatments such as moisturizer or antibiotics may control or reduce your signs and symptoms.
This skin eruption is caused when sweat ducts are blocked (by clothing or body creams) during hot, humid weather. Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters and is likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
Treatment involves moving the individual to a cooler environment or simply allowing the area to air out
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful, blistering condition caused by the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in nerve tissue. Years later, the virus may reactivate, causing shingles at any age.
A shingles outbreak may start with vaguely uncomfortable sensations, itching or pain with no obvious external cause. Within several days, clusters of small blisters — similar to the chickenpox rash — appear in a defined area on one side of your body. Over a few more days, the blisters break, leaving behind ulcers that dry and form crusts.
After about four weeks, the crusts fall off, and the pain and itching usually go away.
Antiviral drugs may lessen your pain or decrease the likelihood of persistent pain after the rash has healed. A shingles vaccine is recommended for most people age 60 or over. Similarly, a chickenpox vaccine in childhood can reduce your risk of shingles later in life.
How Can You Treat Rashes?
Naturally, treamtnet is going to depend on what kind of rash you have. All of the rashes listed above (and many more which are not listed) have a specific treatment.
General over-the-counter rash treatments are always a good place to start, but if the rash persists for a few days or gets worse, it’s always safe to see your doctor ASAP.
What do you think about this “Rashes 101” guide? Do you have anything you’d like to add about any of the ailments listed above? Share any knowledge you have in the comments section below.