Rules to Follow When You Have a Skin Rash

When to see a doctor and how long rashes last

Acne on a teenager’s face.
Acne on a teenager's face. Oktay Ortakcioglu/Getty Images

The tips that follow are designed to give you a starting point with general rules about rashes. They're not designed to diagnose a rash.These rules should be used like a map; a map is not the destination itself. Rather, it's a tool to help you get where you need to go.

Rule #1 - Frustration With Rash

If a rash really bothers you, go see your doctor. Period. It doesn't matter if it's a common skin problem, or other people aren't concerned about it.

You're the one who has to live with your skin, so if you want to talk to a doctor, do it.

Even simple or easily treated rashes can cause an immense amount of frustration if you don't know what to do about them. Imagine not knowing you have athlete's foot. You may be able to tolerate itching and burning skin for a few days or weeks, but you will probably reach the point that it drives you crazy. The solution may be a simple over-the-counter skin cream, but if you don't know that, the cream can't do you any good.

Rule #2 - Rash Time

Generally, the longer you've had a rash, the more likely you need to see a doctor if you're concerned about it. Deciding if that mole you've had on your skin for the past 20 years is looking cancerous or not is something you want an expert to do.

Most of the time a rash that has been present for a couple of days will go away on its own. Warning signs that should send you to the doctor sooner rather than later are pain, rapid swelling, shortness of breath, bleeding blisters in the mouth or eyes, skin that is rapidly turning dusky or black and large amounts of skin peeling in sheets.


Rule #3 - Previous Experience With Rash

If you've had the same rash before, it's probably the same diagnosis. This may sound oversimplified, but many people think that because a rash comes back, it wasn't diagnosed correctly. Actually, many rashes aren't necessarily cured, they're controlled.

Rashes such as acne, eczema, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, and rosacea can have a waxing and waning course depending on many factors.

The best idea is to educate yourself about a rash you've been diagnosed with so you know what to expect in the future. You may be surprised to find out you need to continue some type of treatment to keep it under control.

Rule #4 - Rash Likeness

If you have a rash that looks just like the picture of ringworm, there's a good chance you have ringworm. Like the other rules, except the first one, there are exceptions. Sometimes you can't find a picture or description that exactly matches your skin symptoms. Sometimes you can't decide between two or three choices.

Unless you have any of the warning signs from the second rule, narrow your choices down as far as you can. Then, educate yourself about the treatments for each choice. You may find that the treatments are the same. Remember, if in doubt, return to the first rule.

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