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Acute Rash

What is a rash?

Irritation, redness, or itchiness in the skin or mucous membranes may be called a rash. Mucous membranes are the lining of the nose, throat, and other body areas that are open to the outside. An acute rash may be a sign of an injury, illness, or a reaction of the skin or body to certain things. The word acute is used to define problems that start suddenly, worsen quickly, and last a short time.

What is eczema?

This is a condition where rashes show up as inflamed (swollen) and itchy areas of your skin. With eczema, skin usually looks dry, scaly, and thick. The outer layer of the skin is often damaged by eczema. Irritants, stress, and having a family member with eczema make you more likely to get it. You may be so itchy that it is hard to sleep. Common types of eczema include:

  • Contact dermatitis: This rash is a small, itchy growth that may be flat or raised. It appears after your skin touches something that damages your skin, or causes an allergic reaction. This may include chemicals, metals, dye, cleaning solutions, soaps or detergents, or latex.

  • Atopic dermatitis: This rash shows up as small, itchy, blister-like growths. The rash often occurs along skin lines and folds, such as your hands, wrists, face, and neck. If you scratch a lot, your skin may have marks on it from scratching, or it may open up. Your skin may be sore and itchy, and you may find it hard to sleep. The rashes may have fluid oozing out of them, and become scaly, crusted, or hard. Your skin may get dry, and your eyes may be swollen. You may not want to be around other people because of how your skin looks. This rash usually forms after you are around allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions), including foods. The rash may also appear if your body is exposed to too much heat, or if you wear rough clothing.

What is urticaria?

With this condition, rashes appear suddenly as patches and raised areas of swollen skin or mucous membrane. The rash area may itch or feel like it is burning. This can be caused by allergens found in the air, such as pollen, dust mites, and animal dander. Being around certain animals or materials, such as latex, or eating certain foods may also cause urticaria. Foods that often cause urticaria include wheat, soy, milk, eggs, fish, clams, crabs, legumes, cheese, lobster, shrimp, tomatoes, and strawberries. You may also get this rash with sudden changes in temperature, being around smoke, or after having a blood transfusion.

What is pityriasis rosea?

This rash may appear before you get a disease caused by a virus. Germs called bacteria or a virus may cause this rash. The rash may look like a patch on your chest, back, or abdomen. The rash may spread to become small, red, cone-shaped bumps, which usually grow in groups.

What diseases may cause an acute rash?

Your body's immune system fights germs and other things to help prevent you from getting sick. If you have an autoimmune disease, your body fights against your own cells, proteins, or tissues instead of against the germs. A rash is often seen in the following diseases:

  • Pemphigus vulgaris: The rash in this disease is often seen as blisters on your skin and mucous membranes. It often shows up on your face and scalp, inside your mouth, and on the upper part of your body.

  • Bullous pemphigoid: This rash is often seen as blisters that look like they are about to burst. The blisters often appear on your thighs, groin, armpits, abdomen, and neck.

  • Other diseases: Hepatitis, vasculitis, and Hashimoto's disease may cause an acute rash.

Can certain medicines cause a rash?

A rash may appear after you use a medicine on your skin, or take a medicine by mouth. Antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and aspirin may cause a rash. The rash may lay flat to your skin or be raised, and it may be itchy.

How can I tell healthcare providers about my acute rash?

Tell healthcare providers when you first saw the rash, and the place or places on your body where you saw it. Tell him what happened before the rash showed up. Tell him if the rashes come after eating a certain food, after doing an activity, or when you feel stressed. If you had the rash before, tell your healthcare provider how often you have had it. Tell him if you are taking or using any medicine, or have allergies or medical conditions. He will need to know if you have a family member who has allergies, or also gets rashes.

How might my acute rash be treated?

Your treatment will depend on the condition causing your acute rash. You may have any of the following:

  • Medicines:

    • Antibiotics: If your rash is itchy and you scratch your skin, this may break your skin open and cause a wound. Antibiotics are given to treat a wound infected with germs called bacteria.

    • Antihistamines: These are anti-allergy medicines. They are given to treat atopic dermatitis and urticaria caused by an allergic reaction. They may also be given to decrease itchiness.

    • Immunomodulators: These medicines affect how your body's immune system reacts. They may help or decrease the work of your immune system. These medicines may be given to treat rashes caused by atopic dermatitis or severe contact dermatitis.

      • Immune globulins: These can be given to help your immune system fight infection. They may also help if your body does not make enough of certain kinds of blood cells. These may be given if you have a rash caused by a drug reaction. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how immune globulin medicine may help you.

      • Immunosuppressives: These medicines work by stopping your immune system from attacking your body. They may be given if your rashes are caused by an immune system disease.

    • Steroids: These medicines may be given to decrease inflammation, which is redness, pain, and swelling.

  • Treatments:

    • Skin soothers: Emollients may help treat dermatitis. Cold compresses may also be used to decrease the symptoms of contact dermatitis. Calamine lotion or zinc oxide may be used if you have pityriasis rosea. A wet-wrap dressing may help your skin heal faster if you have atopic dermatitis. This dressing is made by placing a layer of wet bandages on your skin, and then covering this with dry bandages.

    • Ultraviolet phototherapy: For this treatment , your skin is put under a special light. It is often used to treat atopic dermatitis. It may also be used for eczema that does not get better after you use steroids. If you have pityriasis rosea, it can be used to help the rashes heal faster, and to decrease itchiness.

What else may be done to treat my acute rash?

Treatments such as the following may decrease itching and hep you cope with your rash:

  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a treatment based on a belief that fluids flow through channels in our bodies. Caregivers insert very thin needles just under your skin. This is believed to open the channels, allowing fluids to flow better. This treatment may decrease pain and improve healing. Always see a caregiver for acupuncture. Do not try to give this treatment to yourself.

  • Behavior therapy: Behavior therapy teaches you how to change your behavior by looking at the results of your actions. With this therapy, you learn that certain actions have good or bad results. These results may or may not help you feel better.

  • Biofeedback training: Biofeedback is a special way to control how your body reacts to things like stress or pain. The first step in this training is to use electrodes (wires) to monitor your body responses. These electrodes are placed on different parts of your body, such as your chest. The electrodes are attached to a TV-type monitor which gives a paper tracing of your heart beating. You will learn how to control body changes, such as slowing your heart rate, when you become upset.

  • Hypnosis: This therapy helps you learn how to relax by deep concentration (focused attention). Hypnosis teaches you how to be calm and aware of your mind and body.

  • Relaxation therapy: Stress may cause pain, lead to illness, and slow healing. Relaxation therapy teaches you how to feel less physical and emotional stress. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and music are some forms of relaxation therapy.

What can I do to help prevent or treat my rash?

Dry skin can lead to further problems with atopic dermatitis or eczema. The following may prevent dry skin, and help your skin look better:

  • Apply an emollient on your skin to help bring back its moisture. Use a thicker emollient on areas with thicker skin, such as the hands or feet. When applying greasy emollients, apply in the direction that your hair grows so that you do not damage your hair. Do not scratch your skin.

  • Avoid things that may cause your rashes and other symptoms to appear or worsen. Avoid using harsh detergents, soaps, shampoos, and bubble baths. Use clothes that are made of cotton rather than nylon or wool.

  • Use lukewarm water when showering especially if you have dry skin. Pat your skin dry after your shower. Do not rub your skin. Avoid taking frequent baths or showers.

  • Help bring back your skin's moisture by applying a wet-wrap bandage. This also helps cool your skin and helps decrease itchiness. An emollient or medicine may be put on your skin before putting on the dressing.

Will I need appointments with other healthcare providers?

You may need to see a dermatologist if healthcare providers do not know what is causing your rash. You may also need to see a dermatologist if your rash does not get better even with treatment. You may need to see a dietitian if you have allergies to foods.

What should I expect with time or treatment?

  • The chances of getting well from your acute rash depend on what type of rash you have. Your rash may appear suddenly and go away on its own. The rash from contact dermatitis often gets better when the irritant that is causing it is removed. Your skin may turn darker and stay that way even after your rash is gone. You may later get asthma or allergies if your rash is caused by atopic dermatitis.

  • Most of the time, you will not need to stay in the hospital to have your rash treated. Urticaria usually goes away on its own within 24 hours. With pityriasis rosea, it may take 5 to 8 weeks to go away. Rashes caused by pemphigus vulgaris, bullous pemphigoid, or an allergic drug reaction need to be treated right away. These conditions may become severe and life-threatening if they are not treated. You may need to stay in the hospital if you have rashes caused by serious conditions.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You get a cough or cold, or your eyes are red and swollen.

  • You get open wounds from scratching your skin, or you have a wound that is red, swollen or painful.

  • You get sores or blisters in your mouth or genital area (between your legs), or the skin in those areas is peeling off.

  • You have new signs or symptoms while being treated with medicines.

  • You have swelling or pain in your joints. Joints are the places in your body where two bones meet, such as your elbows and knees.

  • Your rash lasts longer than three months.

When should I seek immediate help?

Call 911 or seek care immediately if:

  • You get a fever.

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.

  • You are vomiting, have a headache, your throat hurts, or your muscles are painful.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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