Rashes involve changes in the color or texture of your skin.

Often, the cause of a rash can be determined from its visible characteristics and other symptoms.

Causes of Rashes

A simple rash is called dermatitis, meaning inflammation of the skin. Contact dermatitis is caused by things your skin touches, such as:

Seborrheic dermatitis is a rash that appears in patches of redness and scaling around the eyebrows, eyelids, mouth, nose, the trunk, and behind the ears. If it happens on your scalp, it is called dandruff in adults and cradle cap in infants.

Age, stress, fatigue, weather extremes, oily skin, infrequent shampooing, and alcohol-based lotions aggravate this harmless but bothersome condition.

Other common causes of a rash include:

Many medical conditions can cause a rash as well. For example:

Home Care for Rashes

Most simple rashes will improve with gentle skin care and avoiding irritating substances. Follow these general guidelines:

Hydrocortisone cream (1%) is available without a prescription and may soothe many rashes. If you have eczema, apply moisturizers over your skin. Try oatmeal bath products, available at drugstores, to relieve symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, or shingles.

For psoriasis, you may need a prescription. You could also talk to your doctor about a variety of treatments, including ultraviolet (UV) light therapy.

For seborrheic dermatitis, try applying small amounts of anti-dandruff shampoo to patches of this scaly rash on your skin, especially near hairy areas like your eyebrows. Leave on for 10 minutes and then carefully rinse off. If the shampoo feels irritating or your skin becomes redder, STOP use.

For impetigo, an antibacterial cream or oral antibiotic is generally prescribed.

See article on poison ivy, oak, and sumac to learn how to treat and prevent this type of contact dermatitis.

When to Contact a Medical Professional for Rashes

Call 911 if:

Call your health care provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit for Rashes

Your doctor will perform a physical examination. He or she will ask questions about your medical conditions, medications, health problems that run in your family, and recent illnesses or exposures. Questions may include:

Tests may include:

Depending on the cause of your rash, treatments may include medicated creams or lotions, medications taken by mouth, or skin surgery.

Many primary care providers are comfortable dealing with common rashes, but for more complicated skin disorders, a referral to a dermatologist may be necessary.

Prevention of Rashes