What is my adult rash and just how serious is it?

Skin rashes can be both unsightly and uncomfortable. Liz Connor identifies some common adult rashes, plus their causes and treatments

Hives usually appear as a reddened, itchy, raised rash in small patches
Liz Connor (PA)

THERE are many different kinds of rashes out there; some can be mild and harmless, while others could be potentially life-threatening.

Many rashes are itchy, red, painful, and irritated, and they can be a result of an infection, a chronic skin condition or an allergic reaction.

If you find an unexplained red patch on your body, a doctor will be able to diagnose what kind of rash you have and decide how urgently you need treatment.

Here Dr Naveen Puri of Bupa Health Clinics ( identifies some of the most common rashes.

1. Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection that causes an itchy, spotty rash.

“The spots are called ‘vesicles', which often look like individual bubbles filled with pus, that will quickly burst and then scab over,” explains Dr Puri. “We usually get chickenpox as a child, but adults can get it too, and the red pocks often go away after a week or two.”

Telltale chickenpox marks are often accompanied by high temperature, aches, pains and loss of appetite.

“Cooling gels and taking paracetamol can help with itching, but you should seek help from your GP if the chickenpox gets worse, or if the skin around the blisters is hot or painful.”

2. Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection which causes a painful rash near one or more nerves.

“This makes the skin very sensitive. It will usually start as a reddened or purple patch and quickly develop into clusters of fluid-filled sacs.”

“Some people describe it as looking like small ‘bubble wrap',” Dr Puri says. “After the vesicles burst, they will crust over into blisters that weep fluid before scabbing over.”

Shingles usually affects the skin but can also affect the eyes. Contact your GP if you suspect you might have shingles as they can give you medication to help with recovery.

3. Hives

“Hives usually appear as a reddened, itchy, raised rash in small patches." The condition often caused by a reaction to certain foods, pollen, animal fur or hair, or insect bites.

Hives usually settle quite quickly and antihistamines can be taken to help bring them down too. Hives will often resolve themselves without medical intervention, but you should speak to your doctor if they haven't settled within two days, if the rash appears to be spreading, the hives keep coming back, you have a high temperature, you feel unwell or have swelling under the skin.

4. Psoriasis

Psoriasis causes red, itchy, flaky, scaly patches that are commonly found on knees, elbows and the scalp. It can also sometimes cause small pin-point dips called ‘pitting' in your nails,

It is a long-term condition and tends to come and go in cycles.You might get a flare-up that can last a few weeks when things are stressful, or you might go for months without any symptoms.

Your GP can help you to manage the condition and can recommend over-the-counter creams and ointments to help ease discomfort.

5. Eczema

Eczema is a common term for a group of conditions that make your skin inflamed or irritated.

“Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, and it causes the skin to become itchy, dry, and cracked in severe cases,” says Dr Puri.

“It can affect people in different places, such as the hands or behind the knees or in patches across larger areas of the body.”

Eczema can have a significant impact on daily life. Soap substitutes, creams and steroid preparations can help to relieve the painful symptoms, as well as self-care techniques, such as reducing scratching and avoiding triggers.

6. Rosacea

Rosacea is one of the easiest rashes to spot. It's characterised by a redness that appears as if you are blushing, with blood vessels showing on your face – most typically around the inner cheeks by the nose, across the nose, and forehead.

It can also produce small, red, pus-filled bumps which can often be mistaken for acne.

“It can be triggered from alcohol, spicy food, caffeine, cheese, stress, and even exercises such as running.”

Although most rashes are not life-threatening, some can signal something more serious. Seek medical attention if your rash is spreading quickly, has other symptoms, begins to blister or is painful to touch.

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