What to Do When You Have an Unexplained Rash

Some of the most common skin care questions are about unexplained rashes, including pimples, red bumps, itching, irritated skin, and more.

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

Some of the most common skin care questions are about unexplained rashes, including pimples, red bumps, itching, irritated skin, and more, from the scalp to the toes. One of our most popular questions of all time was from a mom asking about "red bumps and blisters" on her children's skin. Over two hundred readers responded in the two years since that post.

Are you itchy reading this yet? I have to tell you that on a personal note, every time I read about all these itches and rashes I begin to feel itchy myself. In response to all the questions about rashes and especially including "itchy red bumps" as a symptom, I have begun a series of informational posts about everything and anything which can cause a rash. Some of the possibilities for causes of rashes include:

It is evident that I have a lot of writing to do because these four causes barely scratch the surface of all the many triggers for developing a rash. Discovering what is causing your rash is a bit like playing detective. You have to analyze the facts as you know them and sort through which facts are relevant for figuring out the source of your skin reaction.

Questions to answer about your rash:

  1. Do you have any other symptoms aside from a skin reaction? Do you have a fever, chills, nausea, or any other bodily symptoms?

  2. Does anyone else in your family have a similar rash? Have you been around anyone who has this same rash?

  3. What does the rash look like? A picture is worth a thousand words. Is the rash flat, raised, bumpy, or blistery? Is it red, patchy, or scaly? Has the rash spread?

  4. What does the rash feel like? Is it itchy? Is it painful? Does it burn?

  5. Were you out in the sun before developing your rash?

  6. Have you taken any new medications?

  7. Were you exposed to any outdoor triggers such as plants, animals, or insects?

  8. Have you used any new detergents, lotions, soaps, cosmetics or perfumes? Are you using any products made of latex?

  9. Do you have any food allergies that you know of?

  10. Is the rash going away or is it unchanged over time?

Writer Sue Chung gives advice on what you should do if you suspect that your skin reaction is caused by some sort of allergy: "Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching and aloe to sooth burning. Occasionally, taking a Benadryl or a similar over-the-counter antihistamine medication can help reduce the allergic reaction. Aveeno's oatmeal-infused Soothing Bath Treatment can also take the edge off itching and inflammation if the rash covers a large area of the skin. While it's tempting to scratch, refrain from doing so since this can lead to infection and scarring."

My best advice about rashes is to see your doctor. It is sometimes a guessing game to figure out what is causing the rash. Some rashes linger on because the trigger has not been found. I would also suggest seeing a dermatologist if your regular GP cannot diagnose the cause of the rash or provide a treatment which works for you. Another specialist who may help in some instances is an allergist.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."