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Acute Rash


What is a rash?

A rash is irritation, redness, or itchiness in the skin or mucus membranes. Mucus membranes are areas such as the lining of your nose or throat. Acute means the rash starts suddenly, worsens quickly, and lasts a short time. An acute rash may be caused by a disease, such as hepatitis or vasculitis. The rash may be a reaction to something you are allergic to, such as food or latex. Certain medicines, including antibiotics, NSAIDs, prescription pain medicines, and aspirin can also cause a rash.

What are some common types of rashes?

  • Eczema shows up as inflamed and itchy areas. Your skin may look dry, scaly, and thick. The outer layer of the skin is often damaged. Irritants, stress, or having a family member with eczema make you more likely to get it. Common types of eczema include the following:
    • Contact dermatitis shows up as a small, itchy growth that may be flat or raised. It appears after you touch something that damages your skin, or causes an allergic reaction. Examples include chemicals, metals, dye, cleaning solutions, soaps or detergents, and latex.
    • Atopic dermatitis shows up as small, itchy, blister-like growths. The growths often occur along skin lines and folds, such as your hands, wrists, face, and neck. The rashes may ooze fluid and become scaly, crusted, or hard. Your skin may be sore, itchy, or dry, and your eyes may be swollen. This rash usually forms after you are around allergens, including foods. The rash may also appear if your body is exposed to too much heat, or if you wear rough clothing.
  • Urticaria is also called hives. This rash appears suddenly as patches and raised areas of swollen skin or mucus membrane. The area may itch or feel like it is burning. Urticaria can be caused by allergens found in the air, such as pollen, dust mites, and animal dander. Contact with latex or certain foods may also cause urticaria. You may also get hives with a bee sting, being around smoke, or after having a blood transfusion.
  • Pityriasis rosea may appear before you get a disease caused by bacteria or a virus. The rash may look like a patch on your chest, back, or abdomen. The rash may spread to become small, red, cone-shaped bumps that usually grow in groups.

What should I tell my healthcare provider about my rash?

Tell your healthcare provider when you first saw the rash, and where on your body you saw it. Tell him what happened before the rash showed up. Tell him if the rash comes after you eat a certain food, after you do an activity, or when you feel stressed. If you had the rash before, tell him 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 who also gets rashes.

Which medicines are used to treat an acute rash?

Treatment will depend on the condition causing your acute rash. You may need any of the following:

  • Antihistamines are given to treat atopic dermatitis and urticaria caused by an allergic reaction. They may also be given to decrease itchiness.
  • Steroids may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat a bacterial infection.
  • Immunomodulators may help your immune system fight infection or stop your immune system from attacking your body. These medicines may be given to treat rashes caused by atopic dermatitis or severe contact dermatitis.
  • Ultraviolet phototherapy is often used to treat atopic dermatitis. Your skin is put under a light. This therapy 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 can I do to help prevent a rash or care for my skin when I have a rash?

Dry skin can lead to more problems. Do not scratch your skin if it itches. You may cause a skin infection by scratching. The following may prevent dry skin, and help your skin look better:

  • Use thick cream lotions or petroleum jelly to help soothe your rash. These products work well on areas with thick skin, such as your feet. Cool compresses may also be used to soothe your skin. Apply a cool compress or a cool, wet towel, and then cover it with a dry towel.
  • Use lukewarm water when you bathe. Hot water may damage your skin more. Pat your skin dry. Do not rub your skin with a towel.
  • Use detergents, soaps, shampoos, and bubble baths made for sensitive skin. Wear clothes that are made of cotton instead of nylon or wool. Cotton is softer, so it will not hurt your skin as much.

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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.
  • You are vomiting, have a headache, your throat hurts, or your muscles are painful.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • 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, 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.
  • Your rash lasts longer than 3 months.

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 healthcare providers 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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