What Are the Different Types of Skin Rashes?

July 27, 2022

skin rash on shoulder

Itching, red, and irritated – rashes can feel painful and uncomfortable, and they don’t look great either. According to Dr. Kassahun Bilcha of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Dulles, Virginia, “Rashes come in many different shapes and sizes. They have a variety of causes and can impact any part of the body. While they don’t look or feel great, the good news is that most types of rashes are irritating but not dangerous. In fact, the majority of rashes can be addressed with at-home treatments.” In this blog, Dr. Bilcha will go through some of the most common types of skin rashes, their underlying causes of rashes, and treatment recommendations.

What Is a Skin Rash?

When it comes to rashes, Dr. Bilcha says, “Rash is an umbrella term for a variety of skin conditions that can change the way skin looks and feels. They may cause symptoms like redness, itching, inflammation, scaling, bumps, blisters, and more. Different types of rashes cause different symptoms, and everyone’s skin reacts differently to irritants. I often tell my patients that it can be hard to define, but you will know a rash when you see it and feel it.”

What Causes Skin Rashes?

According to Dr. Bilcha, “The causes of skin rashes are as varied as the rashes themselves. If you can pinpoint the cause of your skin rash, you may be able to prevent them before they begin. It will also be easier to find the right treatments to address rashes once you know their underlying causes. A dermatologist can help you evaluate the rash and diagnose the cause. In some cases, they will ask you to keep track of any new skincare products, cleaners, foods, clothing, medications, and other new elements you’ve been exposed to.”

Some of the common underlying causes of skin rashes include:

  • Heat
  • Infections (bacterial, viral, fungal)
  • Allergens and irritants (poison oak, ivy, and sumac, chemicals, dyes, fragrances)
  • Medications
  • Skin conditions (eczema and dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea)
  • Photosensitivity (skin reaction to the sun)
  • Insect, tick, mite, or spider bites
  • Illnesses (chickenpox, shingles, measles)

What Are the Most Common Types of Skin Rashes?

When it comes to the types of skin rashes, Dr. Bilcha says, “There are so many different types of rashes that it can be difficult to create a streamlined list. If you have a rash and aren’t sure of the origin, it may be best to start with a trip to your dermatologist to discuss the possible causes of your skin rash. Before your visit, consider the descriptions below of the most common types of skin rashes and conditions that may be mistaken for a rash and whether your symptoms match one of these descriptions.”

Medicinal Allergy Rash

Rashes are a common side effect of certain medications. In some cases, these rashes are signs of an allergic reaction to the medication. In other cases, drug rash is just a side effect of taking the medicine. If you notice a rash after taking a medication, read the common side effects to check for rash or skin irritation symptoms. If these effects aren’t listed as common symptoms, you should reach out to your prescribing doctor and/or dermatologist to find out if you need to discontinue use of the medication. If the skin rash is severe or you notice changes to your breathing or fever, seek out emergency care right away. The most common symptoms of medicinal allergy rashes include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Purple or red bumps

Insect & Spider Bites

Bug bites can happen to anyone, but not everyone develops skin rashes after being bitten. Some people may just have a small bump that is hardly noticeable after an insect or spider bite. Others may notice more serious skin reactions, including:

  • Large bumps or groups of smaller bumps
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Skin that looks red, purple, or otherwise changes in color
  • Itching
  • Changes in skin texture
  • Burning sensations

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

Atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema, leads to thickened skin, bumps (especially around hair follicles) itching, redness, inflammation, and irritation. While eczema flareups can occur anywhere, they are most common in folds of skin like the elbows, knees, ankles, and underarms. Individuals may have unique responses to eczema, but some of the common side effects include:

  • Redness
  • Thickened, white or yellow scaly skin patches
  • Flaking skin
  • Blisters and oozing or crusty sores
  • Itching, burning, and tingling
  • Clusters of bumps

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a condition that causes a rash after direct contact with a skin allergen or irritant, including plants like poison ivy, oak, and sumac as well as contact with chemicals, dyes, fragrances, and other irritating substances. Individuals react differently and develop rashes due to contact with a variety of products. Symptoms may develop in the area impacted by contact dermatitis shortly after exposure or days after skin comes in contact with the allergen or irritant. Side effects of contact dermatitis include:

  • Itchy, bumpy, swollen skin that is sensitive to the touch
  • Blisters and oozing sores
  • Red, raw-looking and feeling skin
  • Thickened, scaly patches of skin

Heat Rash (Miliaria)

Miliaria, commonly referred to as heat rash, develops when the sweat glands are obstructed, which may occur due to excessive heat or wearing clothes too warm for the temperature. While it can be irritating, the effects of heat rash usually diminish as soon as the skin has cooled. Symptoms of miliaria include:

  • Small bumps that develop in clusters around sweat glands
  • Prickling, stinging, itching rash
  • Coloring varies, including red, white, brown, or grayish colored bumps
  • Oozing, fluid-filled bumps on the skin

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common, chronic skin and inflammatory condition. After exposure to certain triggers, psoriasis flare-ups occur, leading to a range of side effects, including:

  • Thickened, scaly skin called plaques
  • Painfully itchy patches of skin
  • Can develop anywhere on the body, but flare-ups occur most often on the back, sides, stomach, legs, and feet
  • In certain types of psoriasis, the hands, scalp, face, and elbows may be impacted
  • An itchy rash that is red or purple in color
  • Can impact only very small areas of skin or cover large parts of the body

Rosacea

Another chronic skin condition, rosacea may begin as very mild skin redness on the cheeks that looks like flushing. Over time, rosacea may become more and more noticeable as redness and itching increase. In addition to redness and flushing of the cheeks, symptoms of rosacea include:

  • Small bumps that may look like pimples on the face
  • Increased redness of the face
  • Generally dry and sensitive skin

Ringworm of the Body (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm of the body, or tinea corporis, is a contagious fungal infection that spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact. Tinea fungus that causes ringworm also causes athlete’s foot and jock itch. Ringworm earned its name due to the ring-like shape of the affected skin. No worms cause or are related to this condition. Common side effects of tinea corporis include:

  • Ring-shaped itchy rash
  • Scaly, thickened skin around the rash, which may have a raised border
  • Itchy, inflamed skin

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Herpes zoster, referred to most often as shingles, is a skin rash caused by a viral infection. The same virus also causes chickenpox. Individuals who have chickenpox may develop shingles later in life when the dormant virus reactivates. Common warning signs of shingles include:

  • Unexplained aches and pains preceding any skin or other symptoms
  • Clusters of blisters
  • Oozing sores
  • Crusted over sores after blisters break open
  • Painful itching, burning sensation as the rash heals
  • Fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, body pain, and other signs of infection

Cellulitis

A common infection of the skin caused by bacteria or fungus, cellulitis can become very serious and may require emergency treatment. Cellulitis infection typically enters the body through a cut, crack in dry skin, or sore. Common symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • Skin redness
  • Painful swelling and inflammation
  • Oozing sores that can spread quickly
  • Skin that feels hot
  • Tenderness or discomfort, especially when skin is touched
  • Fever and chills
  • Red lines extending out from the rash, which is a sign of severe infection that may require emergency treatment

Scabies

Scabies is a type of mite that can cause a skin infestation. The microscopic scabies bite and burrow into the skin, causing a number of symptoms, including:

  • Severe itch and irritation
  • Bumpy or pimply skin appearance
  • Scaly, thickened skin
  • Blisters or oozing sores
  • Raised lines of skin

Measles

Measles is a viral infection that used to be very common in children. While vaccination dramatically reduced the number of cases, there have been an increasing number of measles cases in recent years. This highly contagious infection has a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Small spots or bumps inside the mouth that may be red on the outside with blue or white centers
  • Red rash over the body
  • Fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Runny nose

Fifth Disease

This viral infection is common among young children, and it’s highly contagious. Symptoms of fifth disease include:

  • A bright red facial rash usually developing on the cheeks
  • A lace-like rash may develop on the arms and legs
  • Headache and body aches and discomfort
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach upset

Impetigo

Infants and children may develop impetigo. This highly contagious skin infection presents with symptoms like:

  • Sores and ulcers that develop around the mouth and nose
  • Itchy rash
  • Irritated, inflamed, or red skin
  • Oozing blisters that pop with minimal contact
  • Sores crusted over after popping

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

This viral infection is most common in children under the age of five. Hand, foot, and mouth disease has a range of symptoms, including:

  • Painful blisters in the mouth
  • Raised red spots on the palms of hands and bottoms of feet
  • In some cases, bumps or rash develop in the buttock or genital area
  • Itching
  • Aches and discomfort

Diaper Rash

Another common type of rash for children, diaper rash is a form of irritant dermatitis. It occurs when moisture, heat, and friction in the diaper areas cause a rash to develop. Symptoms of diaper rash include:

  • Rash on parts of the skin that make contact with the diaper
  • Red coloring
  • Skin that looks inflamed or irritated
  • Skin that may look wet or shiny
  • Warm or feverish feeling skin

Chickenpox

This is a common, highly contagious viral infection that used to impact children frequently. Today, most children are vaccinated against this infection and avoid the uncomfortable itching rash associated with chickenpox. Common side effects of chickenpox include:

  • Intense, stinging itch
  • Red bumps
  • Fluid-filled sores
  • Fever
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat

Prevention & Treatment for Rashes

According to Dr. Bilcha, “Treatment for rashes is all about alleviating the specific symptoms the person is experiencing. For instance, you may need to apply topical ointments, cold compresses, and other soothing products to calm the itch. If the underlying cause of the rash is a specific health condition, your dermatologist or physician should partner with you to create a treatment plan to manage the condition that triggers the skin rash.”

When you have a rash, take the following steps to keep the skin affected by rashes clean, avoid infection or irritation, and encourage healing:

  • Clean the area at least once each day with a gentle cleanser.
  • Use cooler water when bathing or showering to avoid stripping too much moisture from the skin.
  • Use a fragrance-free and dye-free moisturizer at least once a day and especially after showering to keep skin hydrated and promote healing.
  • Use a hydrocortisone cream to alleviate itching. Over-the-counter creams work well for many, but if you’re experiencing very intense itch, especially if it’s impacting sleep, you may need to get a prescription anti-itch treatment.
  • Soak in a lukewarm colloidal oatmeal bath to alleviate itching. Colloidal oatmeal can also help to dry out oozing or seeping rashes without stripping excessive amounts of moisture from the skin.
  • Whenever possible, leave the rash uncovered and wear breathable fabrics if you can’t leave the rash uncovered.
  • Avoid rubbing or irritating skin.
  • Forego using any products that may be irritating and reintroduce them one at a time to pinpoint the source of rashes.
  • Do not scratch. We know it’s tempting, but scratching can spread some types of rashes. It also increases the risk of infection and scarring.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen to relieve pain and discomfort.

Dr. Bilcha cautions, “While most rashes can be cared for at home, there are some situations where it’s best to work with a professional. If you’re ever in excessive pain or have an itch so intense your ability to complete daily tasks or sleep soundly at night is impacted, you should see a professional. If you notice tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing, this can be a sign of severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, which requires emergency medical intervention. Fever, swelling, fatigue, nausea or diarrhea, and other signs of infection should also be treated by a physician.”

Need Help Clearing Up a Rash?

Whatever type of rash you have, the knowledgeable team at U.S. Dermatology Partners can help you relieve itch and irritation and clear up skin. When you’re ready to get started, simply take a few moments to complete our scheduling request form. A local team member will be in touch to answer your questions and finalize all the details of your visit.

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