Don't Let Rashes Get Under Your Skin

Ask the Pharmacist

A rash is a rash is a rash, right? Not so. In fact, there are so many different types of skin rashes that you may find it hard to keep track of them all. Makes you itch just thinking about it, doesn't it?

Here's a brief overview of just 10 of the more common types of skin rashes, including a few that tend to appear during these warm summer months.

* Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes itchy, dry, scaly, inflamed skin. Fluid-filled blisters may also form. You can't catch it from other people, but a family history of allergies can increase your risk. Over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone-containing creams or ointments may help.

* Contact dermatitis shows up as red, dry, itchy patches — often on your hands and face — areas that have been exposed to an irritant, such as soap or detergent. Poison oak or ivy is an allergic cause of contact dermatitis, which brings on itchy, red blisters. Avoid the irritant or allergen. A variety of newer OTC products can help prevent and treat poison oak or ivy. Sometimes oral corticosteroids are prescribed.

* A drug rash can occur if you're allergic to a medication, such as antibiotics. Red, itchy spots that can spread and cover a large area develop within two weeks of starting a new medication. Certain foods may cause a similar reaction. See your doctor right away if you suspect an allergy.

* Ringworm actually involves no worms at all. This itchy, red, slightly raised ring is caused by a fungus. You can pick up ringworm from other people or animals. Topical antifungals can usually clear up this rash.

* Impetigo is a bacterial infection. It sometimes develops in open cuts or bites. A red sore quickly ruptures and oozes, forming a crust. The infection spreads easily from person to person or to other areas of skin. You might need OTC or prescription antibiotics.

* Swimmer's itch can lead to itchy, red, raised areas. You may get it if you swim in water that's contaminated with parasites. If you've taken a walk along Crown Beach this summer, you may have read the signs warning you about staying out of the water because of these parasites, which burrow into your skin. Normally, this rash clears up in about two weeks, but if it worsens or doesn't clear up without treatment, see your doctor.

* Rosea, though usually mild, leads to large scaly, pink areas of skin. It may become itchy and red or inflamed. Oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl, can sooth itching. The cause of rosea is unknown.

* Heat rash can flare up if you spend too much time in the heat. Red clusters of blister-like bumps can pop up in areas that get very warm, such as your neck, upper chest, or groin. Try to stay cool and dry, and wear loose clothing.

* Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes a rapid buildup of rough, dead skin cells. It shows up as thick, silvery scales or itchy, red patches — often on knees, elbows, or scalp. Depending on its severity, your doctor may need to prescribe medication.

* Lichen planus is another common skin rash. It's not contagious, though it's linked to certain conditions and medications. It appears as shiny, flat-topped bumps. Anti-itch products, such as antihistamines, may bring relief.

What's the bottom line? Many rashes clear up with a little time. But in the meantime, you may need relief. So if a rash doesn't go away, or is causing you distress, ask your local neighborhood pharmacist to steer you toward the right products — or, to let you know if it's time to seek help from your doctor.

Ed Clark is itching to help relieve your annoying skin rash at Webster Pharmacy, 1553 Webster Street, Alameda. Reach him there, or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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