Itchy, red, scaly rashes are caused by more than allergic reactions. Various factors, conditions and medical issues can cause an itchy rash. Five common rashes include skin reactions from heat, stress, plant contact, viruses and funguses.
Heat rash. Miliaria, or heat rash, is common with kids but can happen to any age group. Typically, it occurs during humid and/or hot weather when you are dressed too heavily for the heat or wearing clothing that does not allow for air circulation. Your sweat flow is blocked and a rash results. Prickly heat is a form of heat rash. Heat rashes are rarely serious. Treat a heat rash with a cool compress and a bit of calamine lotion. Avoid wearing heavy, restrictive clothing when the weather is hot and humid.
Stress rash. A typical stress rash may appear as hives or urticaria. It may appear anywhere on the skin as itchy welts ranging in size from as small as a pea to as large as a Frisbee. Sometimes hives meld together to form one large mass. Stress hives may go away in 24 hours or can last longer depending on the person and situation. Hives can be treated with cold compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths, cortisone creams and antihistamines. Lichen planus is a rash appearing as flat, shiny bumps. The bumps typically are found on the wrists, ankles, neck, back and legs. Stress may be one of the causes of lichen planus. Topical corticosteroids can help treat the itch from lichen planus.
Contact dermatitis. An allergic reaction to plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac result in a rash known as contact dermatitis. It occurs usually through contact with the plant’s oils. However, you can develop a rash from smoke if these plants are burned. It can be contagious; one person can pass the oils along to another through contact from skin to skin or from contaminated clothing to skin. Once the oil has been washed from the skin, you are no longer contagious. Reduce the spread by washing all contaminated clothing, shoes and other items. The National Institutes of Health recommends treating this type of plant reaction rash with cool compresses, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, colloidal oatmeal baths or soaking in aluminum acetate. Antihistamines may be taken as well.
Viral rash. Shingles is an example of a viral rash. Known as the herpes zoster virus, it is caused by chickenpox or the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles typically affect older adults, but anyone who has had chickenpox can get it. If you have a weakened immune system, you are at a higher risk for this viral rash. It typically presents as a red, itchy rash with blisters. Once the blisters form scabs, it can’t be passed to another person. Shingles may be treated with pain relievers, anti-viral medication, nerve blockers and/or corticosteroids, states the American Academy of Dermatology. A vaccination is available for shingles as well.
Fungal rash. Ringworm is a type of fungal infection that presents as a rash on the top layer of skin. Its name reflects its appearance. Ringworm forms a red, round rash with healthy skin in its center. It’s usually itchy and is a fungal infection similar to athlete’s foot. Ringworm is caused by “microorganisms that become parasites on your body. These mold-like fungi (dermatophytes) live on the cells in the outer layer of your skin,” states the Mayo Clinic. It is contagious, spread by humans, animals and objects. You may contract ringworm through contact with infected soil as well. It can be treated by both topical and oral medications.
Rashes can be painful, bothersome and even an indication of another medical issue. If you have a rash, contact your doctor for medical advice and/or treatment.