Definition: Skin Irritation– reaction to a particular irritant that results in inflammation of the skin and itchiness.
Definition: Rash– A spotted, pink or red skin eruption that may be accompanied by itching and is caused by disease, contact with an allergen, food ingestion, or drug reaction.
Skin irritation is a general term that can refer to a number of skin problems, including lesions, redness and itchiness. Rashes, a specific type of skin irritation, describe any area of skin that is red, itchy and inflamed. Both general skin irritation and rashes can be caused by a number of factors. Similarly, each can vary in severity and in duration.
For example, while mild forms of skin irritation and rashes can last for a few days, serious cases of both can persist for weeks, causing debilitating pain.
One of the primary functions of skin, the body’s largest organ, is to protect us from the sun, pollutants and other potentially harmful substances. Because it is constantly coming into contact with the elements, it is always at risk of encountering substances that will irritate it. Common causes of skin irritation include:
- extended duration in extremely hot or extremely cold weather
- frequent washing
- frequent contact with water
- pet dander
- synthetic fabrics
In addition to the above causes, rashes specifically may also be caused by:
- bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection
- bug bites
- hormonal fluctuations
- medical conditions, such as eczema or Lyme disease
- mosquito bites
Because both of these skin condition have such varied causes, the associated symptoms are also extremely diverse. Like other medical conditions, the symptoms a person will experience when he suffers from skin irritation or rashes will depend on the exact cause of the condition. Some of the most common symptoms associated with skin irritation and rashes include:
- burning, tingling or stinging sensation
- changes in skin’s texture
- cracked skin
- dry skin
- flaky or scaly skin
- small blisters
- thickened skin
Diagnosing Skin Irritation and Rashes
Getting the proper diagnosis for your rash relies on identifying the precise cause of the skin irritation. Once you and your doctor are able to identify what is causing your skin irritation, the proper course of treatment will be clear.
Seeing your doctor or dermatologist immediately after you recognize rash symptoms is essential to preventing further health complications and avoiding the spread of your condition to others. While your skin rash may not be contagious, seeing a medical expert is still essential to preventing the rash from spreading over your body and getting your health back on track.
When you go to see your doctor, he will ask you the following questions:
Are any of your family members or co-workers experiencing similar symptoms?
Do you suffer from any allergies that you know about?
Do you suffer from any non-allergy-related, chronic medical conditions, such as lupus?
Have there been any noticeable changes in your home or work environment recently?
Have you been under added stress recently?
Have you come into contact with a substance that you don’t usually handle?
Have you handled any chemicals recently?
Have you noticed any bug bites on your body recently?
Have you started a new shampoo, used a new soap or tried a new perfume in the last few days?
Your answers to these questions, as well as the appearance and location of the skin irritation, will help the doctor make a proper diagnosis.
Although the precise treatment you need for your irritated skin will rely on the exact cause of your condition, doctor generally recommend the following:
- Bath, shower and wash with warm (not hot) water, so as not to shock or dry out the skin.
- Gently dry skin, especially the affected area. Rubbing skin roughly will only irritate it further.
- If you have identified the irritant (the substance that has caused the rash), stay away from it.
- Make sure that your showers or baths are short. Prolonged contact with water will only further irritate the skin.
- Moisturize the affected area multiple times each day, especially after washing, with a perfume-free, oil-free moisturizer.
- Use a humidifier at home to re-moisturize the skin.
- Use mild, perfume-free soaps.
Healthy skin provides a barrier between the inside of the body and the outside environment. A rash means some change has affected the skin.
Rashes are generally caused by skin irritation, which can have many causes. A rash is generally a minor problem that may go away with home treatment. In some cases a rash does not go away or the skin may become so irritated that medical care is needed.
In adults and older children, rashes are often caused by contact with a substance that irritates the skin (contact dermatitiscamera). The rash usually starts within 48 hours after contact with the irritating substance. Contact dermatitis may cause mild redness of the skin or a rash of small red bumps. A more severe reaction may cause swelling, redness, and larger blisters. The location of the rash may give you a clue about the cause.
Contact dermatitis does not always occur the first time you are in contact to the irritating substance (allergen). After you have had a reaction to the substance, a rash can occur in response to even very small amounts of the substance. Contact dermatitis is not serious, but it is often very itchy. Common causes of contact dermatitis include:
- Poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
- Soaps, detergents, shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics, or lotions.
- Jewelry or fabrics.
- New tools, toys, appliances, or other objects.
Latex, Allergy to natural rubber latex affects people who are exposed to rubber products on a regular basis, especially health care workers, rubber industry workers, and people who have had multiple surgeries. Latex allergies can cause a severe reaction.
Rashes may occur with viral infections, such as herpes zoster; fungal infections, such as a yeast infection (Candida albicans); bacterial infections, such as impetigo; and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Rashes may also occur as a symptom of a more serious disease, such as liver disease, kidney disease, or some types of cancer.
Rashes may also appear after exposure to an insect or a parasite, such as the scabies mite. You may develop a rash when you travel to a rural area or go hiking or camping in the woods.
A rash may be a sign of a chronic skin problem, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis. Other causes of rash include dry, cold weather; extremely hot weather (heat rash); and emotional stress. Emotions such as frustration or embarrassment may lead to an itchy rash.
Some medicines can cause a rash as a side effect. A very rare and serious type of generalized red rash called toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) may occur after using sulfa drugs. TEN can cause the skin to peel away, leaving large areas of tissue that weep or ooze fluid like a severe burn. If this type of rash occurs, you need to see a doctor. TEN may occur after the use of some medicines.
The need for medical treatment often depends on what other symptoms are present. A rash that occurs with other symptoms, such as shortness of breath or fever, may mean another problem, such as a serious allergic reaction or infection. Get proper skin tests done and consult your doctor before taking any OTC medication