(edited from the skininformation.com article: Treating Rashes)
At one time or another, we have all experienced a rash. Red, itchy, bumpy and inflamed patches of skin are the most typical symptoms that occur. The causes of skin rashes vary widely, ranging from irritation, allergic and other reactions to foods, chemicals, animals, or plants, or other environmental factors.
Rashes are a sign that the body’s immune system is rejecting or reacting to an infectious agent, whether it is a virus, bacteria, or an allergic reaction.
Skin rashes are common because the skin plays an important role in the immune system. When foreign molecules known as “antigens” are introduced into the body, blood cells that protect against antigens called “lymphocytes” work to identify and eliminate these foreign intruders. The skin is the level where many antigens and lymphocytes square off. When the lymphocytes become active from exposure to these antigens, they produce chemicals that cause inflammation.
Allergies to various substances and viral infections also frequently produce rashes as they activate our immune system.
Common Types/Causes of Rashes
Rashes can be general or localized, and its characteristics and appearance will also vary depend on the cause, and the type of rash. Below are some common rashes:
Allergic Contact Dermatitis: When your skin comes into contact with an allergen, it will react by causing a rash. Common allergens include nickel, hair dye, or latex rubber. Certain plants such as poison ivy, oak and sumac can also cause a similar rash. Learn more about allergic contact dermatitis here
Irritant Contact Dermatitis: When your skin comes into contact with irritants, often over prolonged periods, it can cause your skin to rash. Common irritants include soap, detergents, or chemicals like formaldehyde. The resulting rash is often red, swollen, and itchy. Learn more about irritant contact dermatitis here
Eczema: Also known as atopic dermatitis, this chronic rash is commonly seen in children. The affected skin will often be dry, chapped, and itchy. It is often found in the folds of the elbows or the back of the knees, and can become aggravated. Learn more about eczema here
Insect Bites: Rashes can be caused by exposure to insects or parasites, such as mosquitos, bedbugs or scabies mites. These often occur during outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. Learn more about insect bites here
Heat Rash: Hot and dry weather conditions can also cause rashes to appear.
Emotional Stress: Bouts of anxiety, embarrassment or frustration have been known to trigger skin rashes.
Viral / Fungal Infections: Viral infections, such as herpes zoster; fungal infections, such as a yeast infection; bacterial infections, such as impetigo; and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause skin rashes.
Skin Saving Tips
Here are a few tips that can help you effectively deal with a skin rash:
- If you have a rash, the first thing you need to do is to determine the cause. Rashes are a result of the body’s defense system becoming activated, so it’s important to recognize that your body has likely come into contact with something that it deems to be harmful. If you are unsure of what is triggering the rash, consult with dermatologist to accurately identify the cause and to determine the most effective treatment option.
- The best way to avoid further irritation from a rash is to not scratch your skin. This is very important, as the rash will take longer to heal if you aggravate it, and there is an increased chance that the cut skin will develop into an infection or a scar.
- For rashes attributed to eczema, stay away from harsh soaps that may dry out your skin, and make an effort to moisturize with creams or lotions. This can help to keep the skin hydrated and healthy. Mild soaps should be used as regular soaps can be irritating to the skin, and hot showers and long baths should be avoided as it dries out the skin even more. In the case of eczema, if you have not done so already, visit a dermatologist, as the rashes will be chronic and patterned.
- If your rash is due to coming into contact with irritants, cool showers and calamine lotion can help to reduce the rash. Antihistamines can also be prescribed which reduce redness and itching.
- If toxic plants are your problem, learn what the offending plant 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, you should consider applying insect repellant before spending time outdoors. Citronella candles are also effective method of warding off unwanted pests. Wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs can also help.