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Skin Problem Sleuthing: How to Identify and Solve Common Skin Issues

Skin rashes and other itchy irritations can be caused by a number of things, such as allergies, exposure to soap and other substances, and even family history.  Below is a guide to some of the most common skin problems and how to treat them.  If you have a severe irritation that covers a large area of the body, a rash that is not going away, or if you have other symptoms you should see your healthcare provider.

What does it look like?

What could it be?

What causes it?

What should I do about it?

Red, scaly rash

Irritant contact dermatitis

Contact with an irritating substance, such as a detergent, perfume, or dye (common sources are laundry detergent and jewelry made with nickel; if you switch detergents and notice a rash, that may be the cause)

  • Avoid the substance you think caused the symptoms
  • Treat the area with moisturizing lotion or hydrocortisone cream

Red, itchy rash that may have developed small bumps or blisters

Allergic contact dermatitis

Contact with a substance you are allergic to (usually caused by poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac)

  • Wash your skin and the clothes you were wearing when you were exposed to these plants because  the oil from these plants causes the allergic reaction
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to the irritated area to relieve itching
  • Avoid scratching to prevent infection
  • See a doctor if rash covers a large area of the body, blisters ooze or have pus, you have fever, or it isn’t getting better after a couple of weeks

Dry, red, itchy skin on the face, inside the elbows, or behind the knees

Atopic dermatitis, or eczema

Contact with an irritating substance, allergy, genetics, or a disease.
It is most common in babies and children, but can last into adulthood or start later in life for some people.

  • Apply moisturizing lotion after showers or baths
  • Avoid overheating and stay in cool environments as much as possible
  • Wear cotton or breathable fabrics
  • Keep nails short to avoid scratching

Redness or a flushed appearance in the cheeks, chin, forehead, or nose;
May cause acne or red, dry, and itchy eyes

Rosacea

The cause is not known, but it is more common in women and people with fair skin.
You may be more likely to have rosacea if you blush a lot or if it runs in your family.

  • Treatment is not required, but antibiotics may be prescribed in severe cases
  • To relieve itchiness, use mild or gentle cleansers on your skin and use moisturizers and sunscreen specifically for sensitive skin

Swollen, pale red bumps, welts, or sores that appear suddenly on your face or body

Hives

Reaction to food, medicine, infection, or other source.
Being extremely nervous can also be a cause.  

  • Try a cold compress over the area or take an antihistamine to control the itching
  • Call your doctor right away or go to the nearest emergency room If the hives don’t go away, you  just started a new prescription medication, or you have swelling around the lips or tongue or trouble breathing

Red,itchy bumps on the skin, typically spread out randomly on the body

Insect bites

Bite from a mosquito, spider, or insect

  • Avoid scratching it
  • Put a cold compress or hydrocortisone cream on  the bites or take an antihistamine to relieve itching
  • Call your doctor if the bumps don’t get better in a few days
  • Go to the emergency room right away if you notice new symptoms such as difficulty breathing, dizziness, or nausea—all signs of an allergic reaction

Sources:
Skin Conditions, Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/skinconditions.html

Rashes, Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/rashes.html

Dermatitis, NIH News In Health: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/Apr2012/Feature1