For some medical conditions, it is easy to know what is going on. An injury from a fall, a reaction to food that didn’t agree with you, or even catching a cold after being around someone who was coughing aren’t very mysterious. But what about suddenly seeing some bumps on your skin? Or finding that you have an itch that showed up for no apparent reason? And what if it won't go away?
Your skin is one of the most important organs you have, and the ways it can be irritated and damaged are numerous. What is more, the condition of your skin is often a way for your body to tell you if something is going wrong inside. From red bumps to scaly patches, dry skin, itching, and blistering, there are many ways your skin can be irritated, and many different ways to treat what ails you.
What is a Rash?
Broadly speaking, a rash is a generalized term for a wide range of outbreaks or irritations visible or felt on the skin. Rashes are a part of life from infancy to old age, and can arise from many different sources. The causes of skin disease include allergic reactions, infections from bacteria, viruses, and even parasites. Often the red, itchy skin you are suffering from is caused by an irritant you encountered, and most rashes are far from life-threatening. However, it is important to know that many common skin rashes can appear in similar ways. It can be difficult to tell apart the sources of different rashes. For this reason, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing a rash that does not clear up. This is especially true if the rash is accompanied by other symptoms. Some very serious conditions of your digestive tract, immune system, and liver can be accompanied by skin rashes, and should definitely be treated by a doctor.
Irritations of the skin are so common and so diverse that an entire branch of medicine is devoted to covering them and little else. Dermatologists are doctors who specifically study, diagnose, and treat issues with the skin. These specialists can be essential in helping you understand what is going on with your skin, especially when there is no obvious cause for an itchy rash that seemly showed up out of nowhere.
Typically recognized by itching, redness, blisters, and sometimes pain, rashes come from a wide range of causes. Some rashes are contagious, others are infectious, some are signs of serious illness, and others are simply irritations that cause nothing more than a little embarrassment and discomfort.
Treating a skin rash can involve everything from taking prescription drugs or simply applying an over-the-counter lotion or cream to the location of the rash. If you have been exposed to an allergen that has caused your body to break out, taking antihistamines can also help bring about relief.
What Are Rash Symptoms and Signs?
Rashes can come in a startling variety of different intensities, forms, locations, and appearances. Nearly any surface of your body could develop some form of rash, including soft tissue inside the mouth, nose, and other areas. Changes in color, swelling, bumps, dry and flaky patches, and scaring are just a few of the different ways rashes can affect the skin.
Some rashes are easily identified either by the form they take or their location on the body. Others may require medical attention and a doctor or dermatologist’s expertise to fully and accurately diagnose.
What Are the Different Types of Rashes?
As a broad category, rashes can include many different specific conditions. Generally speaking, you can begin to classify rashes in two categories: infectious and non-infectious.
Infectious rashes are the more worrisome of the two categories, as they accompany conditions that can sometimes be contagious. This category includes infections from parasites, bacteria, fungi, and even viruses. Since these types of rashes can be passed from person to person, they should be treated with special care.
Many infectious rashes are well known, but may not be thought of as rashes by some people. Herpes, for instance, is a term commonly used to indicate a sexually transmitted viral infection, but there are other forms of the herpes virus. Herpes zoster is the common cause shared between chickenpox, often contracted during childhood, and shingles that sometimes strikes older people. Both of these infections result in skin rashes, though the symptoms of these two infections are quite different.
What Causes Infectious Rashes?
Skin infections are typically caused by coming into contact with a bacteria, virus, or parasite in your environment or through contact with a person or animal that is already infected. Some infectious rashes such as ringworm (or tinea) can be contracted from animals in a domestic or agricultural setting.
Others, such as Staphylococcus or herpes virus, are typically passed from person to person, though staph infections can also be transferred by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. Other infectious rashes such as scabies arise from person to person contact, but rather than bacteria they are actually caused by a mite that burrows into the skin.
What Are Other Causes of Skin Rashes and Dermatitis?
Noninfectious rashes come about from other causes, and generally cannot be passed from person to person through contact. These rashes are sometimes issues affecting the skin itself, and can also be caused by other medical conditions affecting various parts of your body that simply show through as an irritation or rash on the skin.
Contact dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis are all examples of noninfectious rashes. Drug reactions and other allergic responses by the body are also known to cause rashes. Coming into contact with certain plants like poison ivy or poison oak can also produce an allergic reaction that results in an unpleasant outbreak on the skin.
Eczema is a term for a class of noninfectious rashes such as atopic dermatitis. This chronic condition can produce red, itchy patches on the skin. Unlike other causes of rashes, atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that can flare up any time during your life.
Many noninfectious rashes can be treated with medicine such as pills or corticosteroid creams. As with infectious rashes, though, the visible rash itself is just a symptom of something deeper. Solving the underlying issue that has brought about your rash is the best course of action rather than just trying to alleviate the symptoms.
What Tests Diagnose Types of Rashes?
Since there are many different causes of skin irritations, it should be no surprise that the ways to test and diagnose rashes are also quite diverse. If you go to your doctor with a rash you can’t identify, you might be greeted with a quick diagnosis or you may need to go through several kinds of tests before you know exactly what you are up against.
When diagnosing your condition, your doctor will likely begin by asking many questions in an attempt to determine what might be causing your rash. He or she will be asking what drugs you may have been taking, places you have been, people you have been in contact with, and other questions about potential irritants or infections you may have encountered.
The location and type of rash you have can give clues to help your doctor or dermatologist begin to narrow in on what you are suffering from. The color and location of a rash can also tell your doctor a lot about what might be happening.
Taking a skin culture is one way to determine what is going on. These tests are useful for identifying bacteria, such as Staphylococcus or other foreign bodies that may be present on the skin. Taking a biopsy or scraping of the skin can also be the basis for further diagnosis. Examining these tissue samples under a microscope can identify the presence of fungi or other irritants.
Blood tests are a staple of medical diagnosis. When dealing with rashes, looking at your blood can sometimes be less useful. Looking for rashes associated with lupus, hepatitis, celiac disease, or even thyroid conditions can be a very accurate indicator of what is wrong with you. Blood tests can even help diagnose between the different causes of similar skin conditions. Psoriasis, for example, can be caused by an HIV infection, or a much less worrisome streptococcal infection in the throat, or even alcoholism.
Identifying causes like Lyme disease or herpes is another matter. The markers left in the blood by these conditions often only indicate that a person has been exposed to one of these diseases at some point in their lives rather than confirming that an infection is currently active. In these cases, blood tests are only part of the diagnostic picture.
Sometimes the progression of your rash over time can lend a clue to what is causing it. Taking a series of images over time can help diagnose your rash if other forms of diagnosis are not immediately conclusive.
How Are Skin Rashes Treated?
So, you have been to your doctor, talked through what might have caused your skin rash and now it is time to do something about it. What treatments might you be facing?
Treatment options for rashes are as diverse as the things that cause them. Treatment can involve everything from topical lotions and creams that simply reduce the inflammation and irritation at the site of the rash to drugs, lifestyle changes, and even altering the kind of soap or detergent you buy.
For many kinds of infectious rashes, eliminating the source of the rash is usually accomplished through making your body a less hospitable environment for the bacteria, virus, or other visitor that is causing your condition. For bacterial infections, treatment can take the form of oral, topical, or even injected antibiotics. For viral infections, there are a number of medications available, though they do not address every potential rash caused by viruses. Antifungal creams are available to clear up skin conditions that arise from fungal infections.
For many noninfectious rashes, one path to relief is to remove any irritants that are causing the issue. For some cases of contact dermatitis, this can mean avoiding harsh hand soaps and laundry detergents. For other types of rashes where it is not immediately obvious what is causing your issue, steroid creams like triamcinolone, clobetasol, and hydrocortisone can help provide relief, even if they don't eliminate the source of the rash completely. In the cases where rashes are a sign of a deeper issue with your liver or immune system, a larger, more comprehensive treatment plan will be needed.
Should I Talk to My Doctor About a Skin Rash?
Many types of skin rashes are nothing serious and may clear up on their own. Others, especially those caused by coming into contact with a bacteria or fungi, can be resolved with fairly conservative treatment or over-the-counter remedies. Other infections and some noninfectious causes of skin rashes may require medical treatment in their own right, or can signal the presence of a condition elsewhere in the body that demands medical attention. One thing you can do is monitor the progress of a rash and possibly even record it with pictures before you visit your doctor. If you have a rash that is not resolving itself or is rapidly getting worse, it may be time to seek medical advice.
Rashes can be embarrassing, confusing, and they certainly are not comfortable. You may not need to talk to your doctor the instant you see a small patch of red bumps you haven't noticed before. On the other hand, there is no need to continue suffering from a prolonged rash that may be treatable. At TrustCare, we have the expertise to quickly diagnose your rash, help you understand the causes, and begin a path to treatment. Stop in today at one of our locations to begin finding answers about is going on with your skin.