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Don't Be Rash: A Guide to Common Rashes

Don't Be Rash:
A Guide to Common Rashes

Prickly Heat
Allergy Rash
Flaky, Itchy Rash
Sun Rash

One second you're fine, and the next second you notice a bunch of blisters, bumps, pimples or maybe just a blotchy redness covering a part of your body. You've got a rash, but don't fret. They're usually harmless, and in most cases, they disappear on their own. Rashes are simply your body's way of telling you it doesn't like something. Common rashes result from reactions to medications, ingredients in a lotion or shampoo, metals, or even food. Most rashes should disappear in a week or two. Rarely, rashes can be signs of serious disorders. These include toxic shock syndrome, some forms of meningitis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a disease caused by ticks. If you have a rash that won't go away, make an appointment for your health professional to check it out. If you have a rash and you also have a fever, chills, muscle ache, or severe headache, contact your health professional right away. In the meantime, here's what you need to know about basic rashes. back to top

Prickly Heat
This is a common summertime rash. Prickly heat (also called miliaria rubra) is thought to be caused by a combination of heat and blocked sweat ducts. This rash looks like small, red, dome-shaped bumps. It usually appears in places on your body where sweat pools, including the waist, upper body, armpits, the insides of the elbows, and the back of the neck. The bumps are harmless, but they itch and may burn.

How to Prevent It
You can avoid getting prickly heat by wearing breathable fabrics like cotton when you're outside in the heat or working out. It's a good idea to avoid getting too hot, and to drink lots of water to keep your body temperature low. In the warmer months, give your body time to adjust to the heat.

How to Treat It
Prickly heat will go away on its own if you stay out of the heat. Applying calamine lotion or dusting powder may help ease the burning or itching. If it's really bothering you, you can ask your health professional to give you a prescription for a lotion or cream medicated with a corticosteroid. This cream reduces inflammation and will help the rash go away faster. back to top

Allergy Rash
You can get a rash from an allergic reaction that is caused by a particular substance touching your skin. This kind of rash is also called contact dermatitis. The result is a red, hive-like rash that appears anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after you come in contact with whatever is causing your allergy. Without treatment, these rashes can last 11 to 14 days. Most of the time, you get this kind of rash because you're allergic to ingredients in soaps, hair dyes, or lotions. Many people also are allergic to nickel, a metal used in some jewelry. The rash you get after touching poison ivy or oak is also a form of contact dermatitis.

How to Treat It
The first step is to figure out what's causing the reaction. The second step is to avoid it. If you have trouble pinpointing exactly what caused the reaction, a dermatologist can do a patch test. In this test, common substances known to cause allergic reactions are applied to small areas (or patches) on your skin to see which ones you react to. To soothe the rash, apply calamine lotion, or a product such as AveenoŽ that contains oatmeal. You can also try a topical medication called CaladrylŽ, but it could cause an allergic reaction. Oral antihistamines such as BenadrylŽ that you can buy at the drugstore may also be helpful. In severe cases, a dermatologist can prescribe a cream called a topical steroid that will reduce the redness and itching. Ask your health professional or dermatologist which kind of medication is right for the rash you have. back to top

Poison Ivy/Poison Oak Alert!

If you know you've been in contact with poison ivy or poison oak, immediately wash the area with soap and water. The idea is to wash off the oil from the plant, which is what causes the reaction. If the rash is already starting, use calamine lotion to help soothe the itching and reduce blistering. Oral antihistamines that you can buy at a drugstore, such as Benadryl, may also help to reduce the itching. If your rash covers a large area and you have any blistering and swelling, see your health professional. He or she will give you a prescription for a stronger topical medication to ease the symptoms.

Flaky, Itchy Rash
A red, scaly rash, called seborrheic dermatitis, is pretty common. It usually occurs on the sides of the nose, the eyebrows, the scalp, and behind the ears. In some cases, it occurs in the ears or on the chest. In severe cases, yellowish or reddish pimples can appear on the hairline, behind the ears, and in the ears.

Seborrheic dermatitis runs in families, and it tends to be worse in the winter. No one knows exactly what causes it. Some experts think that it's caused by certain kinds of bacteria or yeast that normally live on our skin.

How to Prevent It
Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that can occur off and on throughout your life. Since doctors don't know exactly what causes it, it's hard to know if there's anything you can do to prevent it.

How to Treat It
Many of the same treatments used to treat dandruff are useful in treating this rash including tar-based shampoos and shampoos containing selenium sulfide and zinc pyrithione. If the rash is on your face, your health professional can prescribe a medicine that reduces inflammation called a corticosteroid to reduce the redness and scaling. Your health professional may also prescribe an anti-fungal cream called ketoconazole, which also works well on this rash. back to top

Sun Rash
Itchy, red bumps and blisters can erupt after as little as 30 minutes in the sun. This condition, sometimes called sun poisoning, usually happens in the spring because your skin hasn't adjusted yet to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. After you go out in the sun more often, your skin gets used to the sun and you won't break out in the rash (but that's not a reason to sunbathe). Bumps can occur on any area exposed to the sun, but appear mostly on the face, arms, and chest. Sun rashes are most common in girls and women between teenage years up to the thirties.

How to Treat It
As long as you stay out of the sun, this kind of rash usually goes away in 3 to 5 days. Topical corticosteroids work well to reduce inflammation and itching. Nonprescription oral antihistamines such as Benadryl may also bring some relief.

How to Prevent It
The best prevention, no surprise, is regular use of a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of at least 15. Broad-spectrum means that it protects you from both UVA and UVB sunrays. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/4/2001
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