Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Idioms, Encyclopedia.
Related to Rashes: heat rash, hives, shingles




The popular term for a group of spots or red, inflamed skin that is usually a symptom of an underlying condition or disorder. Often temporary, a rash is only rarely a sign of a serious problem.


A rash may occur on only one area of the skin, or it could cover almost all of the body. Also, a rash may or may not be itchy. Depending on how it looks, a rash may be described as:
  • blistering (raised oval or round collections of fluid within or beneath the outer layer of skin)
  • macular (flat spots)
  • nodular (small, firm, knotty rounded mass)
  • papular (small solid slightly raised areas)
  • pustular (pus-containing skin blister).

Causes and symptoms

There are many theories as to the development of skin rashes, but experts are not completely clear what causes some of them. Generally a skin rash is an intermittent symptom, fading and reappearing. Rashes may accompany a range of disorders and conditions, such as:
  • Infectious illness. A rash is symptom of many different kinds of childhood infectious illnesses, including chickenpox and scarlet fever. It may be triggered by other infections, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or ringworm.
  • Allergic reactions. One of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction is an itchy rash. Contact dermatitis is a rash that appears after the skin is exposed to an allergen, such as metal, rubber, some cosmetics or lotions, or some types of plants (e.g. poison ivy). Drug reactions are another common allergic cause of rash; in this case, a rash is only one of a variety of possible symptoms, including fever, seizures, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, heartbeat irregularities, and breathing problems. This rash usually appears soon after the first dose of the course of medicine is taken.
  • Autoimmune disorders. Conditions in which the immune system turns on the body itself, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or purpura, often have a characteristic rash.
  • nutritional disorders. For example, scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C, has a rash as one of its symptoms.
  • cancer. A few types of cancer, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, can be the underlying cause of a rash.

Rashes in infancy

Rashes are extremely common in infancy, and are usually not serious at all and can be treated at home.
Diaper rash is caused by prolonged skin contact with bacteria and the baby's waste products in a damp diaper. This rash has red, spotty sores and there may be an ammonia smell. In most cases the rash will respond within three days to drying efforts. A diaper rash that does not improve in this time may be a yeast infection requiring prescription medication. A doctor should be consulted if the rash is solid, bright red, causes fever, or the skin develops blisters, boils, or pus.
Infants also can get a rash on cheeks and chin caused by contact with food and stomach contents. This rash will come and go, but usually responds to a good cleaning after meals. About a third of all infants develop "acne" usually after the third week of life in response to their mothers' hormones before birth. This rash will disappear between weeks and a few months. Heat rash is a mass of tiny pink bumps on the back of the neck and upper back caused by blocked sweat glands. The rash usually appears during hot, humid weather, although a baby with a fever can also develop the rash.
A baby should see a doctor immediately if the rash:
  • appears suddenly and looks purple or blood-colored
  • looks like a burn
  • appears while the infant seems to be sick


A physician can make a diagnosis based on the medical history and the appearance of the rash, where it appears, and any other accompanying symptoms.


Treatment of rashes focuses on resolving the underlying disorder and providing relief of the itching that often accompanies them. Soothing lotions or oral anti-histamines can provide some relief, and topical antibiotics may be administered if the patient, particularly a child, has caused a secondary infection by scratching. The rash triggered by allergies should disappear as soon as the allergen is removed; drug rashes will fade when the patient stops taking the drug causing the allergy. For the treatment of diaper rash, the infant's skin should be exposed to the air as much as possible; ointments are not needed unless the skin is dry and cracked. Experts also recommend switching to cloth diapers and cleaning affected skin with plain water.


Most rashes that have an acute cause, such as an infection or an allergic reaction, will disappear as soon as the infection or irritant is removed from the body's system. Rashes that are caused by chronic conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, may remain indefinitely or fade and return periodically.


Some rashes can be prevented, depending on the triggering factor. A person known to be allergic to certain drugs or substances should avoid those things in order to prevent a rash. Diaper rash can be prevented by using cloth diapers and keeping the diaper area very clean, breast feeding, and changing diapers often.



American Academy of Dermatology. 930 N. Meacham Road, P.O. Box 4014, Schaumburg, IL 60168-4014. (847) 330-0230. Fax: (847) 330-0050. http://www.aad.org.

Key terms

Purpura — A group of disorders characterized by purple or red brown areas of discoloration visible through the skin.
Scurvy — A nutritional disorder that causes skin bruising and hemorrhages.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Patient discussion about Rashes

Q. What is the cause of my head rash? I have a rash on my head. It is red and itchy, what could it be from?

A. A head rash can be caused from lots of different things. I found a website that helps you diagnose it with charts:

Q. What do I do with this horrible Diaper Rash?? I have no idea what is up with my daughters diaper rash, she is a year old and I do everything to keep this rash from coming, but it comes back! All week I have let her run without a diaper on trying to let it air out as much as possible, (thank god for carpet shampooers).Is there any secret that someone has to getting rid of this rash?

A. My own daughter was yeasty from whatever they do to newborns in the hospital and I battled it ever day until I started taking garlic gel tabs. Because I breasfed her she got all the benefits of it and her bottom cleared right up.
Probiotics can help, yogurt, kefir and the like. Super Salve from supersalve.com is amazing in its healing abilities. Avoid processed foods and especially sugars.

Q. Doyou know if the Plant Yarrow give a RASH?

A. ThanksTerrany and Henry for your answers. I do need more information concerning skin contact with Yarrow.MRaye

More discussions about Rashes
This content is provided by iMedix and is subject to iMedix Terms. The Questions and Answers are not endorsed or recommended and are made available by patients, not doctors.
References in periodicals archive ?
"We now have several cases that suggest single-cell molecular profiling can provide treatment guidance for atypical rashes, providing an opportunity for a rational treatment choice rather than just improvising in a difficult population," reported Raymond Cho, MD, PhD, of the department of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco.
The dandruff on his head too is gone; it prevents rashes, eczema and so on, unlike many baby skin products.'
Here is Karen's lowdown on common childhood rashes.
Dermatology nurse Karen Pett, from Epaderm, says: "The majority of rashes aren't dangerous and are often caused by an unexplained viral infection, which will pass without treatment.
Prickly heat is an inflammatory condition of skin in which the skin develops spotty rashes or eruptions that give one a feeling of burning or pricking.
People are infectious about four days before and four days after the onset of rashes. Those who have been diagnosed with measles need to be isolated at home and those who come in contact with them must wear a mask at all times.
rashes, however he was admitted to hospital following the development of an
Jacob said that nickel rashes are also traced to some jewelry, eyeglass frames and zippers.
An additional seven children in the facility also experienced pruritic rashes on their abdomens.
It just happens when the nappy gets a little bit wet or soiled and most nappy rashes are mild and can be treated with simple skin care.
As reported at the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, reusable diapers made of cotton and bamboo are causing diaper rashes. Dr.