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What is a rash?

A rash is the term used to describe a change in the texture or colour of your skin. Rashes are very common and can appear on any part of the body. In most cases, they are nothing to be concerned about and will disappear on their own in a couple of days.

Often, they are caused by an allergic reaction or a sting, or they could be a result of a virus, like herpes or shingles. Rashes can also be caused by chronic conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema.

However, some rashes can be a sign of a more serious condition, or will need medical treatment. If you have a rash that you are worried about, one that does not go away, or one along with other symptoms, you should seek medical help for more advice.

Are certain people more susceptible to rashes?

Anyone can get a rash, from babies to the elderly, and there are many reasons why you may develop one. Some people may be more susceptible to a rash though, including:

  • Babies and infants

    The more delicate and sensitive skin of babies and children makes them more likely to develop rashes. These could be from soaps, detergents or even just heat.
  • Immobile people

    If someone has to stay in the same position for a long time, due to an injury or illness for example, they can develop a rash on the area of the body that they are lying on.
  • Allergy sufferers

    If you have allergic reactions, you are more likely to have a rash. This could be due to atopy - this is an inherited problem meaning you are prone to having or developing an allergic disorder.

There are many other things that can trigger a rash. For instance, even just a change in soap or other personal products may cause your skin to flare up. Or heat is also a common cause of rashes.

Rash symptoms

The symptoms of a rash will depend on what’s causing it. However, common signs include:

  • Itchy skin (not all rashes are itchy though)
  • Bumps on the skin
  • Tiny red spots on the skin
  • Discolouration
  • Blisters
  • Scaling

If your rash is itchy, it is important to try not to scratch it, as this can cause damage to the skin and could cause the rash to spread further or to other parts of your body if it is contagious.

What can a rash be a symptom of?

As we mentioned, often a rash is caused by an allergic reaction or a sting, or it could be a result of a virus. However, a number of other medical conditions can cause you to develop a rash. We’ve listed some of the most common ones below.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema is a common skin condition that can cause dry, red itchy skin. This is a long term (chronic) condition that usually appears on the insides of elbow and knees in adults, but anywhere on the body in children and babies. An eczematous rash can become worse if you use harsh soaps or other products on the affected areas.

Meningitis

If the rash doesn’t fade or disappear when you roll a glass over it, it is a sign of meningitis, which is a serious condition. You should seek medical help immediately at A&E or call 999. Other symptoms may include a fever, irritability and drowsiness and pale, mottled skin.

Psoriasis

This is another common skin disorder that is incurable but manageable with treatment. The skin can become red and scaly, and it commonly occurs on the elbows, knees and scalp. It is usually less itchy than eczema.

Pityriasis rosea

This rash is usually referred to as Christmas tree rash, as it tends to occur most densely on the trunk in a ‘Christmas tree’ distribution, following the rib lines.

Contact dermatitis

This is usually caused by direct contact with something that causes an allergic reaction. You may have used cleaning products or chemicals which cause your immune system to react, leading to you developing a rash.

Heat rash

This occurs when sweat is obstructed, causing a rash. Millaria rubra (known as prickly heat) appears as a cluster of small, itchy red bumps, while millaria crystalline results in fluid-filled bumps.

Ringworm

This is a fungal infection that appears as a slightly raised, scaly red ring on the body. Ringworm is contagious and will usually require treatment with an antifungal medication.

Shingles

This is a viral rash that causes painful blisters. It is caused by the chickenpox virus - if you have chickenpox as a child, the virus may reactivate later in life as shingles.

Allergic reactions

If you have come into contact with something new or harmful, you may develop an allergy rash. Poison ivy, poison oak and other harmful plants contain oils and substances that cause an allergic reaction. These types of rash can usually be treated with over the counter medicines.

The skin irritation you have could also be caused by:

This is only a small example of the causes of rashes. See a GP to investigate yours if needed.

What should you do if you have a rash?

A rash is not normally an urgent problem (unless it has the symptoms of meningitis) and can often be treated with over the counter medication, including topical creams or lotions, which you can apply on the affected area to relieve the itching. An allergic reaction rash can be treated with an antihistamine.

It is important to try not scratch or irritate the skin, and you should avoid harsh soaps or other products that may make it worse.

However, your rash could be the sign of a more serious condition or infection. If it does not clear up after a few days, or if you have other symptoms such as a fever, you should speak to a doctor (except in the case of suspected meningitis - seek medical help urgently in this case).

If you believe there may be an underlying condition that’s causing your rash, it’s also a good idea to see a doctor.

How can Push Doctor help?

At Push Doctor, you can see a GP online, on any device, from home, work or even on the go. They can look at your rash over video consultation, listen to your symptoms and suggest the right treatment.

You can see a GP about your rash at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available 7 days a week and they are able to offer you expert advice and a diagnosis. They can also refer you to a specialist for further tests or treatment if necessary.

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