When to See the Doctor When You Have a Skin Rash

4 Rules to Help You Decide

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

Whenever you develop a skin rash on some part of your body, your first thoughts may be: Is this serious? Should I see a doctor? The following four rules may help you make that decision.

Rule #1: Consider How Frustrated You Are by the Rash

If a rash really bothers you, go see your doctor – period. It doesn't matter whether it's a common skin problem, or whether other people tell you that it's no big deal You're the one who has to live with your skin, so if you want to talk to a doctor, do it.

Even easily treated rashes can cause an immense amount of frustration if you don't know what to do about them. Imagine not knowing that 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 a point when it drives you crazy. The solution may be a simple over-the-counter skin cream, but if you don't know that, then the cream can't do you any good.

Rashes can also cause psychological stress and anxiety. If you find that you're worrying excessively or losing sleep over the condition, that's another good reason to make an appointment with your doctor.

Rule #2: Consider How Long the Rash Lasts

Generally, the longer you've had a rash, the more likely you need to see a doctor. How long does a rash last? Most of the time, a rash that has been present for a couple of days will go away on its own. If you have a rash longer than that, it may be time to see your doctor.

Regardless of how long you've had the rash, warning signs that should send you to the doctor include 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 bed sheets.

Rule #3: Consider Any Previous Experience With Rashes

If you've had the same rash before, then it's probably the same diagnosis.

Many people think that because a rash comes back, it wasn't diagnosed correctly initially. However, many rashes aren't necessarily cured—they're just controlled and can recur. 

For example, rashes such as acneeczema, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, genital herpes, and rosacea can wax and wane, depending on many factors. Educate yourself about any rash that you've been diagnosed with so you know what to expect in the future. You may be surprised to find out that you need to continue some type of treatment to keep it under control. Always call your doctor if you're not sure whether to continue a treatment or not. 

Rule #4: Consider What the Rash Looks Like

If you have a rash that looks just like a picture of ringworm, then there's a good chance that you have ringworm. But sometimes you can't find a picture or description that exactly matches your skin symptoms. And sometimes you can't decide between two or three choices. 

The bottom line: If your symptoms are mild and short-lived, then a doctor's visit may not be necessary. But if the rash is really bothering you physically or making you worry excessively, and/or doesn't go away after a couple of days, and/or is unlike any other rash that you've had in the past and you can't figure out what it is, make an appointment with either your general practitioner or a ​dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in treating the skin), who can give you a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

 

Continue Reading