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What’s that rash?

Illustration of a woman with patches of a rash.

July 21, 2022—Bumps and blisters. Patches and blotches. Spots and dots. Skin rashes come in many varieties. And they can be a distressing—and sometimes painful—occurrence. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), some common rashes are:

Reactions to poison ivy, oak or sumac. Touching these plants or something that contains their oils causes an intensely itchy, red rash to develop hours or weeks later. You can often treat mild poison plant rashes yourself with calamine lotion (for itching) and 1% hydrocortisone cream (for inflammation), according to the AAP.

Eczema. Flare-ups of dry, scaly skin may be eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is common in children, but adults can get it too. Adult-onset eczema often appears around the eyes, according to the AAD. Possible treatments include daily moisturizers and medicines for symptom control.

Contact dermatitis. An itchy, red (and possibly painful) bumpy rash that occurs after contact with an irritant or allergen might be contact dermatitis. Sources of irritants and allergic reactions can include everything from soaps to solvents, jewelry to latex, and even cellphones. Treatment could involve using medications and learning to avoid triggers.

Heat rash. This rash of little pink bumps most often occurs in babies and younger kids, especially around skinfolds like the neck or armpits. Keeping kids cool with fans and light clothing can help prevent heat rash, the AAP advises.

There are many other possible causes of rashes, including some that can be serious, such as measles, shingles and severe allergic reactions.

When to see a doctor for a rash

If you or your child has a rash, you can talk to your doctor about the best way to manage it. In some cases, a rash may require more immediate medical attention. According to the AAD, you should call your doctor or 911 if you have a:

  • Sudden, rapidly spreading rash.
  • Blistering rash or one with open sores, especially if the rash is around the eyes, in the mouth or on the genitals.
  • Rash with fever.
  • Rash that covers the body.
  • Rash that shows signs of infection, such as a rash that oozes fluid, is warm to the touch, crusts over, swells up or has a red streak coming from it.

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