A doctor examines the hands of a mature woman during a consultation about a rash in a dermatology clinic.
Healthcare tips

Understanding Rashes and What Causes Them

June 4, 2024

Our skin is our body’s largest organ — and because it’s also our outermost protection against the outside world it’s pretty common for our skin to occasionally get irritated. When your skin gets irritated, changes color, and gets itchy, it’s very likely that you may be suffering from a rash.

If you notice any drastic changes to or experience irritation with your skin, it’s important to reach out to your doctor or dermatologist to ensure you properly combat whatever the underlying issue may be. Luckily, rashes are very treatable and common — and can even be treated with over-the-counter medications in some instances.

Keep reading on to understand more about some of the most common types of rashes and what causes them.

5 Common Rashes and Their Causes

Contact Dermatitis Rashes: Dermatitis is the medical term for irritation and inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis happens when your skin reacts to a foreign substance that it deems “bad”. The rash your skin produces is your body’s way of letting you know you have a sensitivity or allergy to whatever you touched. 

Many patients can get rashes associated with allergies or sensitivities to fragrances, preservatives, nickel (which makes up most costume jewelry), and poison ivy or poison oak. Additionally, many patients can experience contact dermatitis when switching to new soaps, detergents, or household cleaners.

Eczema Rashes: The rash that’s associated with eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. These rashes, and eczema in general, are very common in young children and patients can grow out of the condition. The condition may be passed down from generation to generation (meaning it’s genetic) and can also be seen more prominently in patients who have other conditions like asthma or allergies.

Hives: Hives, though they appear differently on different skin types and tones, are most commonly characterized by raised, red, itchy bumps called welts. If diagnosed with hives you may hear your doctor call them by their more scientific name, urticaria. 

Like contact dermatitis, it’s common to get hives as a response to external stimuli. Many patients get hives as an allergic reaction to airborne allergens or insect stings. For those with more sensitive skin, drastic changes to the temperature or even bacterial infections can result in hives.

Psoriasis Rashes: Psoriasis is a skin disorder that patients typically have for the entirety of their lives. It manifests in a thick, scaly rash on different parts of the body. The rash can often form on the elbows, knees, lower back, scalp, and genitals. Like eczema, psoriasis may be genetic and can get passed from family member to family member. 

If you’d like to learn more about psoriasis, check out our article about the condition here.

Viral Rashes: Viral rashes make up a very broad category of rashes. Rashes can be a common symptom of many viral illnesses, such as chickenpox, measles, mumps, and molluscum contagiosum. 

As with any kind of rash, it’s important to immediately reach out to your doctor if you notice a change in your skin to seek relief and ensure that you’re not experiencing a dangerous underlying cause of the rash. 

What To Do If You Notice a Rash

If you notice any changes to your skin, be sure to message or call your doctor immediately — this can help you get relief faster than simply using over-the-counter medications and self-diagnosis. In addition, your doctor can rule out any serious or life-threatening causes of your rash and prescribe clinical strength treatments. 

If you get a very sudden rash that’s accompanied by shortness of breath or constriction to your airways, contact emergency medical services immediately.

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