A skin rash shows up as an area of inflammation or change in the texture, and/ or color of your skin. It can be caused by a number of different things including irritation, disease, or allergic/ non-allergic reactions to foods, chemicals, plants, animals, insects or other environmental factors.
So many rashes appear because the skin is an active player in the immune system. Antigens are things like viruses or proteins that we react to. These antigens need to be presented to our immune system in a very controlled way; otherwise we would react to too many things. The skin is the site at which antigen presenting cells introduce the antigens to lymphocytes. These lymphocytes are in a sense the paratroopers of our body. A complicated process of making sure that we are not overreacting takes place. All of this occurs in the skin once these lymphocytes have been activated they produce many chemicals that cause inflammation. When we become allergic to an antibiotic or other drug, the action takes place mainly in the skin as well as in the lymph glands. Viral infections also frequently produce rashes as viral particles are presented to our immune system in the epidermis. In a sense the skin is like the schoolyard which is where many of the fights occur.
Rashes can appear on your entire body or be limited to a specific area, and what it looks like and how it feels can vary depending on the cause and type of rash. Some common types of rashes include:
- eczema (also called atopic dermatitis), which is commonly seen in children. It can cause dry, chapped, bumpy areas around your elbows and knees, and can be very itchy. It can sometimes become very serious causing red, scaly and swollen skin all over your body. (Visit Eczema Guide.ca for more information)
- irritant contact dermatitis, which is caused by your skin coming into contact with something that irritates it, such as a chemical, soap or detergent. This type of rash can be red, swollen and itchy.
- allergic contact dermatitis is caused by your skin coming into contact with something you’re allergic to, such as rubber, hair dye or nickel (which is a metal that is found in some jewelry). A nickel allergy can show up as a red, scaly, crusty rash wherever the jewelry touched your skin. Urushiol, which is an oil or resin that’s found in poison ivy, oak and sumac, can also cause this kind of rash.
If you develop a rash, don’t scratch it! If you do, the rash can take longer to heal and you might develop an infection or scar. There are a wide range of over-the-counter products available to treat rashes, but it’s important to see your doctor first and determine what’s causing the rash and the most effective treatment.
- If the rash is caused by an allergy, then treatment will focus on identifying and avoiding the allergen.
- It it’s caused by eczema, your doctor may suggest special moisturizers (emollients) to help retain the water in your skin; not only will this help to keep your skin soft and smooth, it will help reduce the itching. Short, cool showers are also a good idea because hot showers and baths can dry out your skin more. Also use a mild soap and be sure to apply more emollients after you’ve showered.
- For poison ivy, cool showers and calamine lotion often help and if the rash is severe, your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine to reduce the itching and redness.
It’s important to try to find out what’s causing the rash because the best way to prevent it is to avoid the problem food, substance, medicine or insect. If a poison plant is your problem, learn what it looks like and avoid it. It may also help to wear long sleeves and pants when you go camping or hiking. If insect bites are causing your rash, then consider applying insect repellant before going outside. For eczema, stay away from harsh soaps that may dry out your skin, and make an effort to moisturize with creams or lotions.