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Rashes on the body come in all shapes and sizes – literally. From viruses and bacteria to heat and allergens, we’re taking a look at some of the most common causes for this notorious skin scoundrel.

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March 18, 2019

Rashes – is there anything more irritating (or uncomfortable)? And unfortunately, there are also fewer things more common, especially rashes on kids. When it comes to rashes, there are almost as many causes as there are appearances, and chances are that most of us will encounter our fair share of bumps, blisters, and hives. So to help us scratch the surface (ha! see what we did there) and best understand this common ailment, we’ve compiled a list of frequently occurring rashes to give you the skinny on skin.


Common examples of allergic rashes are those that result from coming into contact with plants or various medications.

Allergic Rashes from Plants

Rashes that Occur from Touching Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac all contain the urushiol oil. Susceptible people who come in contact with urushiol oil will come to regret it anywhere from 12-72 hours later. An itchy (extra emphasis on itchy), blistering body rash forms, commonly in straight lines, where the skin brushed up against the plant. This type of reaction is called contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis can be caused by an irritant or an allergic reaction, but in the case of plant dermatitis, it’s an allergic response.

Poisonous plant rashes are incredibly annoying and itchy, but will likely go away on their own after a few weeks. But if you’re really uncomfortable, a visit to your local MedExpress can help provide some symptom relief. However, some individuals may react more severely to the oil, especially if it’s inhaled. If you’ve come in contact with a plant and start to experience difficulty breathing or swelling, immediately seek medical care.

Prevention Tips

Stay away! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Familiarize yourself with the appearance of poisonous plants and avoid them. If you’re unsure whether poison ivy is lurking in the area, be safe, not sorry, and wear protective gloves and cover exposed skin. Urushiol oil can linger on surfaces, clothing, tools, even pets, so if you’ve been working outside, make sure to thoroughly wash all clothing, tools, and furry friends. If you do come in contact with a poisonous plant, immediately wash your hands with soap and water to try and remove the oil as quickly as possible.

Allergic Rashes from Medication

Rashes that Occur After Taking Medicine

Sometimes our bodies can have unexpected reactions to certain medications, resulting in a rash. Since medications are carried through the blood stream, drug rashes can cover large portions of the body. As you might expect, these rashes typically appear a few hours to days after starting a new medication. If you do get a rash after taking a medicine, it’s important to stop that medication and seek medical care. And always remember, if difficulty breathing or swelling occur you need to immediately see a healthcare professional.

Prevention Tips

Ever wonder why you’re inevitably asked whether you have any known allergies during every trip to the doctor’s office? This is so you can avoid medicines that don’t react well with your body. It’s important for medical pros to know whether or not you’ve had a reaction to a drug in the past so that they can look for appropriate alternatives.

Common examples of bacterial rashes include hot tub rash or swimmer’s itch, scarlet fever, and impetigo.

Hot Tub Rash and Swimmer’s Itch

Rashes That Occur After Swimming

Swimming, hot tubs – these things are fun, right? Of course they are – but unfortunately, they can also harbor bacteria. This rash, commonly referred to as both hot tub rash and swimmer’s itch, is caused by the overgrowth of a bacteria in tubs and pools called pseudomonas aeruginosa (there’s a word for your next Scrabble game). The germ is common in nature, but microscopic, so you won’t be able to see it just by looking at a hot tub. But when your skin is exposed to the bacteria for an extended period of time – well – things may get itchy. The annoying, bumpy rash usually pops up underneath areas that are covered by a bathing suit. You won’t see this rash immediately after getting out of the water. It typically starts anywhere from one to two days later. The good news is that most hot tub rashes will clear up on their own (once you stop getting in the hot tub, of course), but if it doesn’t, a quick visit to a medical professional should do the trick.

Prevention Tips

When it comes to hot tub rash or swimmer’s itch, it’s all about pool and tub maintenance. Don’t be afraid to ask hotel supervisors, pool managers, or whoever oversees the facilities you’re using about the last time the tub or pool was cleaned. To prevent too much bacteria from accumulating, tubs and pools need to be regularly disinfected (typically with chlorine) and have their pH tested. Knowledge is power – so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask a few questions before taking a dip.

Scarlet Fever

Rash Caused by Strep Bacteria

To us, this name is a little misleading. Yes, you do typically get a fever when you have, well, scarlet fever, but this illness’s tell-tale sign is actually a rash. Also known as scarlatina, scarlet fever is caused by the strep bacteria (group A Streptococcus) − the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Typically accompanied by strep throat, scarlet fever is a speckled red rash that feels like sandpaper when you touch it. Anyone can get it, but it’s common among kids ages five to 15. Since scarlet fever is caused by bacteria, a good dose of antibiotics can help clear things up and prevent long-term health problems.

Prevention Tips

Wash those hands! Regular hand washing goes a long way in preventing this one. Limit contact with anyone with strep throat; kissing and sharing drinks are both ways to transit the bacteria. And don’t forget to sanitize surfaces, cover those coughs and sneezes, and replace your toothbrush after completing antibiotics to prevent re-infection.

Impetigo

Rash That Occur Near Breaks or Cuts in the Skin

Even among rashes, impetigo can be, well, gross. Impetigo is caused by staphylococcus aureus, a highly contagious and easily-passed-among-kids bacteria. Impetigo crops up around existing breaks in the skin, such as cuts or bug bites. Kids scratch and get bacteria in those openings, which leads to impetigo. Impetigo appears as red sores (usually around the face and mouth, but they can appear anywhere) that burst open and leak a pus that hardens into a honey-colored crust (yikes!). Again, since it’s caused by a bacteria, antibiotics can be used to help clear things up.

Prevention Tips

Impetigo is very contagious, so if someone gets it, they really need to stay home from work, school, and daycare until cleared up. Adults with impetigo, especially those with jobs that require close proximity to others, should also take a few days off work until cleared by a healthcare provider. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered and remind kids not to scratch as much as possible. It can help to keep kids’ nails cut short so there is less of an area to trap germs and bacteria under the nails. And of course, wash, wash, wash those hands.

A common example of a fungal rash is ringworm, also known as athlete’s foot or jock itch.

Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, and Jock Itch

Rash That Occurs After Coming In Contact with a Fungus

Yep, ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch are all caused by the same thing. This rash goes by many names depending on where it appears on the body. You can even get ringworm on your fingernails and toenails. If you get ringworm on your scalp or beard, it can lead to patches of hair loss (and nobody wants that).

Ringworm, despite its name, isn’t caused by a worm. It’s caused by a fungus. It’s called ringworm because it grows in a thin, circular pattern. Ringworm can be itchy and can be easily passed from person-to-person, animal-to-person, or surface-to-person. This rash can be a bit sneaky, appearing as late as 14 days after contact with the fungus. If you do get ringworm, you’ll need to be treated with antifungal meds, so stop by your local MedExpress or another healthcare provider.

Prevention Tips

The best way to prevent ringworm is to limit contact with surfaces where the fungus can easily grow, such as locker room floors, exercise mats, or towels. Change your socks and underwear daily (yup, mom was right. Clean underwear really is important). Always wear flip-flops or some type of footwear in public showers, locker rooms, or gyms so that your feet aren’t in direct contact with the floor, wash your hands after petting animals, and don’t share personal items.

Heat Rash (aka Prickly Heat)

Rashes That Occur From Trapped Sweat

Everybody sweats. We all just need a way to let off a little ‘steam’ from time to time – and in the body’s case, it’s in the form of perspiration formed in our sweat glands that surfaces through tiny holes in the skin as sweat to cool the body. But when it comes to sweat, it’s better out than in. Clogged or blocked pores can trap sweat under the skin’s surface resulting in heat rash, also known as prickly heat or miliaria.

Heat rash is likely to occur in our sweatiest areas − think arm pits, groin, elbow creases, hair line/neck. Babies are especially prone to heat rash, but it can happen to anyone during hot and humid weather (along with a few other heat-related illnesses to be on the look-out for, such as heat exhaustion).

Prevention Tips

As the saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The best way to avoid (and get rid of) heat rash is to keep yourself cool and try to prevent sweating (which isn’t the easiest thing to do).

Common examples of viral rashes are roseola, chickenpox, and shingles.

Roseola

Rash Caused by a Virus Common Among Children

For parents with young children, it may feel like kids and rashes are synonymous, and the prevalence of roseola isn’t helping. Roseola is a virus that is incredibly common among young children – so common that most children have had it by the time they enter kindergarten. While usually not very serious, roseola typically rears its rashy ways in the form of flat, pink spots following several days of high fever. The good news is that the rash doesn’t itch and is usually painless, although it may be accompanied by a few other symptoms such as diarrhea, fussiness, sore throat, or runny nose. More good news – not all children who come in contact with the roseola virus will show symptoms or the symptoms will be exceptionally mild.

Prevention Tips

No trade secrets here. Since roseola is a virus, good old fashioned healthy habits are the best prevention method. Roseola makes its way around by coming into contact with an infected person’s saliva or mucus. And to make matters trickier, a person can still be contagious even if they don’t have a rash or aren’t showing any symptoms. Wash your hands (and your kiddos’ hands) frequently, teach kids not to share drinking cups, wipe down shared surfaces, and avoid those who are sick.

Chicken Pox

Rash Caused By Another Common Childhood Virus

Ugh – the dreaded chickenpox. We’re all taught to avoid it like, well, the pox. Chickenpox is caused by the highly-contagious varicella-zoster virus. A rash first appears on a person’s chest and back before spreading across the body. It can even spread to the mouth, eyelids, and genitals. It typically takes a full week before the blisters start to scab over. In the meantime, those with chickenpox may lose their appetite and feel like they want to crawl in bed and sleep for a week. While you may think chickenpox is a childhood disease, it can affect people of any age.

Prevention Tips

There were lots of great things about the year 1995 – a gallon of gas cost $1.09, a postage stamp was just 32 cents1, and the chickenpox vaccine became widely available in the U.S.2 In the early 1990s, before the vaccine hit the market, it is estimated that approximately four million people got chickenpox each year. Now the vaccine is credited with preventing thousands of hospitalizations.2 The best way to prevent getting chickenpox is to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe for children, adolescents, and adults and requires two doses be administered.

Shingles

A Rash That Can Occur If You’ve Had Chicken Pox

If you’ve ever had chickenpox, it’s possible to get shingles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in three Americans will develop shingles, with the risk increasing as we get older. That adds up to roughly 1 million shingles cases each year in the U.S.3

Shingles is the herpes zoster virus, and it’s absolutely no fun. There are usually seven to 10 days of painful blisters before they eventually scab over for an additional seven to 10 days. The rash will typically clear entirely within two to four weeks, but it can be recurring, especially in those with weakened immune systems. The appearance of shingles is pretty distinctive, occurring in single stripes on either side of the body or face.

Prevention Tips

Luckily, this not-so-fun rash can largely be prevented with a vaccine called Shingrix®, which is administered in two doses and recommended for healthy adults ages 50 and older.

And there you have it – the rash round up. But the list doesn’t stop here. There are more rashes than we could ever cover, so if you aren’t sure what’s stressing your skin, it’s always best to check with a healthcare provider.


References:

1 The People History: The Year 1995 From The People History. Accessed March 8, 2019.

2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Chickenpox (Varicella). Last updated December 31, 2018. Accessed March 9, 2019.

3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Last updated October 27, 2017. Accesses March 9, 2019.

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