A rash can be local to just one small part of the body, or it can cover a large area. Rashes come in many forms; they can be dry, moist, bumpy, smooth, cracked, or blistered; they can be painful, itch, and even change color.
Rashes affect millions of people across the world; some rashes may need no treatment and will clear up on their own, some can be treated at home; others might be a sign of something more serious. Read More
Causes of rash
A young girl with chickenpox.
There are a number of potential causes of rashes, including allergies, diseases, reactions, and medications. They can also be caused by bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic infections.
One of the most common causes of rashes - contact dermatitis - occurs when the skin has a reaction to something that it has touched. The skin may become red and inflamed, and the rash tends to be weepy and oozy. Common causes include:
- dyes in clothes
- beauty products
- poisonous plants, such as poison ivy and sumac
- chemicals, such as latex or rubber
Certain medications can cause rashes in some people; this may be a side effect or an allergic reaction. Also, some medications, including some antibiotics, cause photosensitivity - they make the individual more susceptible to sunlight. The photosensitivity reaction looks similar to sunburn.
InfectionsInfections by bacteria, viruses, or fungi can also cause a rash. These rashes will vary depending on the type of infection. For instance, candidiasis, a common fungal infection, causes an itchy rash that generally appears in skin folds. It is important to see a doctor if an infection is suspected.
Autoimmune conditionsAn autoimmune condition occurs when an individual's immune system begins to attack healthy tissue. There are many autoimmune diseases, some of which can produce rashes. For instance, lupus is a condition that affects a number of body systems, including the skin. It produces a butterfly-shaped rash on the face.
Home-care for rashes
Rashes come in many forms and develop for many reasons. However, there are some basic measures that can speed up recovery and ease some of the discomfort:
- Use mild soap - not scented.
- Avoid washing with hot water - opt for warm.
- Try to allow the rash to breathe. Do not cover with a Band-Aid or bandage.
- Do not rub the rash dry, pat it.
- If the rash is dry, for instance, in eczema, use unscented moisturizers.
- Do not use any cosmetics or lotions that may be causing the rash - for instance, newly purchased items.
- Avoid scratching to lessen the risk of infection.
- Over-the-counter cortisone cream can ease itching.
- Calamine can relieve some rashes, e.g. poison ivy, chickenpox, and poison oak.
If the rash causes mild pain, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be useful, but these are not a long-term solution - they will not treat the cause of the rash. It is important to speak with a doctor before taking them.
When to see a doctor
If a rash occurs with the following symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor:
- a sore throat
- pain in joints
- if you have had a recent animal or insect bite
- red streaks near the rash
- tender regions near the rash
- a large collection of pus
Although the majority of rashes are not a major cause for concern, anyone experiencing the following symptoms should go to the hospital straight away:
- 1. Bites and stingsClick to Enlarge1. Bites and stings
Many insects can cause a rash through a bite or sting. Although the reaction will vary depending on the person and the animal, symptoms often include:
- redness and rash
- swelling - either localized to the site of the bite or sting or more widespread
- 2. Flea bitesClick to Enlarge2. Flea bites
Fleas are tiny jumping insects that can live in fabrics within the home. They have a very fast breeding cycle and can take over a home very rapidly.
- flea bites on humans often appear as red spots
- the skin can become irritated and painful
- secondary infections can be caused by scratching
- 3. Fifth diseaseClick to Enlarge3. Fifth disease
Also known as erythema infectiosum and slapped cheek syndrome, fifth disease is caused by the parvovirus B19. One of the symptoms is a rash, which appears in three stages:
- A blotchy red rash on the cheeks with groups of red papules.
- After 4 days, a net of red marks may appear on the arms and trunk.
- In the third stage, the rash only appears after exposure to sunlight or heat.
- 4. ImpetigoClick to Enlarge4. Impetigo
Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection that most commonly affects children. The first sign is normally a patch of red, itchy skin. There are two types of impetigo:
- Non-bullous impetigo - red sores appear around the mouth and nose.
- Bullous impetigo - less common, generally affects children under 2. Medium to large blisters appear on the trunk, arms, and legs.
- 5. ShinglesClick to Enlarge5. Shingles
Shingles is an infection of an individual nerve. It is caused by the same virus as chickenpox - the varicella-zoster virus. Symptoms include:
- A rash similar to chickenpox in a band around the infected nerve.
- Blisters can merge producing a solid red band.
- Rash is often painful.
- 6. ScabiesClick to Enlarge6. Scabies
Scabies is a skin condition caused by a microscopic mite. It is very contagious and spreads easily through person-to-person contact. Symptoms include:
- Intense itching - often worse at night.
- Rash - appears in lines as the mite burrows. Blisters are sometimes present.
- Sores - may appear where the rash has been scratched.
- 7. EczemaClick to Enlarge7. Eczema
Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions. It often first develops in childhood. Symptoms depend on the type of eczema and on the age of the individual but they often include:
- dry scaly patches on the skin
- intensely itchy rash
- cracked and rough skin
- 8. Hay feverClick to Enlarge8. Hay fever
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is an allergic response to pollen. Symptoms can be similar to those of a common cold, such as:
- runny nose
- watery eyes
Hay fever can also cause a rash, similar to hives. These will appear as itchy red patches or eruptions on the skin.
- 9. Scarlet feverClick to Enlarge9. Scarlet fever
Scarlet fever is a disease caused by a toxin released by a bacteria - Streptococcus pyogenes - the same bacteria that is responsible for Strep throat. Symptoms include a sore throat, rash, and fever. The rash has the following characteristics:
- red blotches
- blotches turn to fine pink-red rash like sunburn
- skin feels rough
- 10. Rheumatic feverClick to Enlarge10. Rheumatic fever
Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory reaction to a streptococcal infection, such as Strep throat. It most commonly affects children aged 5-15. Symptoms include:
- small painless bumps under skin
- red skin rash
- swollen tonsils
- 11. Mono (mononucleosis)Click to Enlarge11. Mono (mononucleosis)
Mono, or mononucleosis, is caused by a virus. It is rarely serious, but symptoms can include:
- a pink, measle-like rash
- body aches
- high fevers
- 12. RingwormClick to Enlarge12. Ringworm
Ringworm, despite its name, is caused by a fungus. The fungal infection affects the top layer of the skin, scalp, and nails. Symptoms vary depending on the site of the infection, but can include:
- itchy, red rash in rings - sometimes slightly raised
- small patches of scaly skin
- hair near patches breaks away
- 13. MeaslesClick to Enlarge13. Measles
Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by the rubeola virus. Symptoms include:
- a reddish-brown rash
- small grayish-white spots with bluish-white centers in the mouth
- dry cough
- 14. Yeast infection (candidiasis)Click to Enlarge14. Yeast infection (candidiasis)
Candidiasis is a common fungal infection of the genitals. It affects both sexes, but more commonly, women. Symptoms include:
- pain and soreness in the genital area
- itching, burning, and irritation
- 15. Stasis dermatitisClick to Enlarge15. Stasis dermatitis
Stasis dermatitis is also known as varicose eczema. It develops due to poor circulation and most commonly affects the lower legs. Symptoms include:
- varicose veins covered in itchy, dry skin
- red, swollen, painful skin, which may weep or crust over
- heavy, aching legs after standing for some time
- 16. German measlesClick to Enlarge16. German measles
Also known as rubella, German measles are an infection caused by the rubella virus. Symptoms include:
- rash - less bright than measles, often begins on the face
- inflamed, red eyes
- stuffy nose
- 17. SepsisClick to Enlarge17. Sepsis
Sepsis, often called blood poisoning, is a medical emergency. It is the result of a wide scale immune response to an infection. Symptoms vary, but can include:
- a rash that does not fade under pressure
- increased heart rate
- 18. West Nile virusClick to Enlarge18. West Nile virus
West Nile virus is an infection spread by mosquitos. Often, there are no symptoms, but if they do occur, they can include:
- raised and/or flat, pink skin rash on the trunk, arms, or legs
- excessive sweating
- 19. Lyme diseaseClick to Enlarge19. Lyme disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick. The symptoms include an erythema migrans rash that often appears in the early stages of the disease.
- The rash begins as a small red area that may be warm to the touch but not itchy.
- The center loses color, giving it a bull's-eye appearance.
- The rash does not necessarily appear at the site of the tick bite.
- 20. CellulitisClick to Enlarge20. Cellulitis
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layer of skin - the dermis. It normally occurs when bacteria enter through a break in the skin. Symptoms include:
- Skin sores or rash that starts suddenly and grows quickly.
- Warm skin around the redness.
- Fever and fatigue.
- 21. MRSAClick to Enlarge21. MRSA
MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) is a contagious bacterial infection that is resistant to a range of antibiotics. This makes it difficult to treat. Symptoms include:
- swelling and tenderness in the affected part of the body
- wounds that do not heal
Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
- 22. ChickenpoxClick to Enlarge22. Chickenpox
Chickenpox is an infection by the varicella zoster virus. It is unpleasant, but most people recover within a couple of weeks. Symptoms include:
- An itchy rash of small red spots first appears on the face and trunk, and then spreads across the body.
- Spots then develop blisters on top.
- After 48 hours, the blisters cloud and start to dry out.
- 23. LupusClick to Enlarge23. Lupus
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Symptoms vary widely from person to person, but can include:
- Butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and the bridge of the nose.
- Flaky red spots or a purple, scaly rash on the face, neck, or arms.
- Skin sensitivity to the sun.
- 24. Toxic shock syndromeClick to Enlarge24. Toxic shock syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare condition sparked by a bacterial infection. It develops quickly and can be life-threatening. All people who have toxic shock syndrome have fever and a rash with the following characteristics:
- looks similar to sunburn and covers most of the body
- flat not raised
- turns white when pressed
- 25. Acute HIV infectionClick to Enlarge25. Acute HIV infection
During the first stages of HIV, levels of the virus in the blood are very high because the immune system has not yet started tackling the infection. Early symptoms include a rash with the following features:
- mostly affects the upper part of the body
- flat or barely raised small red dots
- not generally itchy
- 26. Hand, foot, and mouthClick to Enlarge26. Hand, foot, and mouth
Hand, foot, and mouth is a childhood illness resulting from a viral infection. Symptoms include:
- Rash - flat, non-itchy red blisters on the hands and soles of the feet.
- Loss of appetite.
- Ulcers on the throat, tongue, and mouth.
Image credit: KlatschmohnAcker
- 27. AcrodermatitisClick to Enlarge27. Acrodermatitis
Acrodermatitis, a type of pustular psoriasis, is also known as Gianotti-Crosti syndrome. It is associated with viral infections. Symptoms include:
- itchy purple or red blisters
- swollen lymph nodes
- bloated abdomen
- 28. HookwormClick to Enlarge28. Hookworm
Hookworm is a common intestinal parasite. It can cause a range of complications. Symptoms include:
- Skin rash in one particular area that is red, itchy, and raised.
- Breathing complications.
- Extreme tiredness.
- 29. Kawasaki diseaseClick to Enlarge29. Kawasaki disease
Kawasaki's disease is a rare syndrome that affects children. It is characterized by an inflammation of the walls of the arteries throughout the body. Symptoms include:
- A rash on the legs, arms, and torso and between the genitals and anus.
- A rash on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand, sometimes with peeling skin.
- Swollen, chapped, and dry lips.
- 30. SyphilisClick to Enlarge30. Syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection. The disease is treatable, but will not go away on its own. Symptoms vary depending on the stage of the disease and include:
- Initially - painless, firm, and round syphilitic sores (chancres).
- Later - non-itchy red/brown rash that starts on the trunk and spreads across the body.
- Oral, anal, and genital wart-like sores.
- 31. TyphoidClick to Enlarge31. Typhoid
Typhoid is caused by a bacterial infection. It is spread quickly by contact with the feces of an infected person. If untreated, 25 percent of cases end in death. Symptoms can include:
- Rash - rose-colored spots, especially on the neck and abdomen.
- Fever - up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
Image credit: Charles N. Farmer, CDC/ Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, 1964
- 32. Dengue feverClick to Enlarge32. Dengue fever
Dengue fever, also called breakbone fever, is transmitted by mosquitos. The condition ranges from mild to severe. Symptoms can include:
- Initially a flat, red rash appears over most of the body.
- Later, a secondary rash appears, similar to measles.
- Severe joint and muscle aches.
Image credit: calliopejen, 2009
- 33. EbolaClick to Enlarge33. Ebola
Ebola is a serious viral disease; it spreads rapidly through families and friends and can often be fatal. Often, a rash is one of the symptoms:
- Initially, a short-lived mild rash may be present.
- Rashes begin to peel and look like sunburn.
- Later in the disease, the rash may turn to abscesses.
- 34. SARSClick to Enlarge34. SARS
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory illness. Symptoms can include:
- skin rash
- stiff muscles