Red, bumpy, itchy skin can be irritating, painful and embarrassing. Rashes can be caused by many things, including exposure to certain plants (poison ivy, for example), allergic reactions to a medication or a food. Rashes can also be caused by an illness such as measles or chickenpox. Eczema and hives, both of which are related to allergies, are two of the most common types of skin rashes. If your skin condition is the result of an allergy, an allergist can diagnose and treat your condition, so you can live life to the fullest.
When you want to find out what’s behind that rash…
It’s time for an allergist.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, affects 15 percent of children, which is nearly double since 1997. An estimated 16.5 million U.S. adults (7.3%) have eczema, with nearly 40% affected with moderate to severe disease. A common symptom of eczema is dry, red, irritated and itchy skin. Sometimes, especially when infected, the skin may have small, fluid-filled bumps that ooze a clear or yellowish liquid. People with eczema often have a family history of allergies.
Hives (urticaria) are red bumps or welts that appear on the body. The condition is called acute urticaria if it lasts for no more than six weeks, and chronic urticaria if it persists beyond six weeks. Acute urticaria is most commonly caused by exposure to an allergen or by an infection. The cause of chronic urticaria is largely unknown.
Contact dermatitis is a reaction that appears when the skin comes in contact with an irritant or an allergen. Symptoms can include a rash, blisters, itching and burning.
Soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, shampoos — or even excessive exposure to water — can all cause contact dermatitis. Other items that can cause a reaction are metals (such as nickel, a component of stainless steel and other alloys used to make costume jewelry), adhesives, nail polish, topical medications, plants and latex gloves.
Sometimes an allergen won’t cause a skin reaction unless the skin is also exposed to sunlight. This condition is called photoallergic contact dermatitis. It can occur with products such as shaving lotion, sunscreen and some perfumes.
There are several different types of skin allergy reactions that allergists treat.
Eczema (also commonly called atopic dermatitis) typically results in dry, sensitive skin. You may experience red itchy patches. Eczema can come and go over time, and flare-ups may crack, ooze, and itch severely. It is very itchy and can vary in severity from mild (just dry skin ) to severe (red, scaly, thick, fissured and oozing skin)
Hives (also known as urticaria) are raised itchy bumps. Typically hives appear reddish, and will “blanch” (or turn white) in the center when pressed.
Contact dermatitis is typically caused by exposure to an allergen or irritant. If you have red itchy bumps on your skin, especially at the site of contact with some potential irritant or allergen, you may be experiencing contact dermatitis.
If you suspect you have any of these conditions, your allergist can conduct an examination and do testing to help determine the cause of your skin reaction and can recommend treatment to help relieve your symptoms.
Avoid scratching! Scratching your rash or hives can create more irritation and can lead to infection. Frequent baths followed immediately with adequate moisturization may help ease your discomfort.
Allergists are specially trained to help treat your condition. Your allergist may prescribe a cream or oral medication to help alleviate your discomfort. Antihistamines and moisturizing ointments can also help ease irritation and dryness. Recently, new medications have been approved, including an ointment for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis and a biologic for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. You can discuss these options with your allergist.
There are many possible causes for your skin rash. Some types of rashes are caused by allergies, others may be caused by infections, skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea, or even just dry or damaged skin. Your allergist can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms and prescribe treatment to help you take control and find relief.
If your skin is already irritated or sensitive, exposure to UV rays and possible sunburn could cause you more discomfort. Take control of your condition by covering up and minimizing your time in direct sunlight.
In addition, some types of skin rash can be caused by the sun. Photoallergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has a reaction to an irritant or allergen after exposure to the sun. Cosmetics, sunscreen, shaving lotion, and perfume can trigger this kind of reaction.
Consult with your allergist to determine the cause of your skin reaction and the best course of treatment.
This page was reviewed for accuracy June 28, 2023.