The popular term for a group of spots or red, inflamed skin that is usually asymptom of an underlying condition or disorder. Often temporary, a rash is only rarely a sign of a serious problem.

A rash may occur on only one area of the skin, or it could cover almost all of the body. Also, a rash may or may not be itchy. Depending on how it looks,a rash may be described as:

  • Blistering (raised oval or round collections of fluid within or beneath the outer layer of skin)
  • Macular (flatspots)
  • Nodular (small, firm, knotty rounded mass)
  • Papular(small solid slightly raised areas)
  • Pustular (pus-containing skin blister).

There are many theories as to the development of skin rashes, but experts arenot completely clear what causes some of them. Generally a skin rash is an intermittent symptom, fading and reappearing. Rashes may accompany a range ofdisorders and conditions, such as:

  • Infectious illness. A rash is symptom of many different kinds of childhood infectious illnesses, including chickenpox and scarlet fever. It may betriggered by other infections, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever or ringworm.
  • Allergic reactions. One of the most common symptoms of an allergic reaction is an itchy rash. Contact dermatitis is a rash that appears after the skin is exposed to an allergen, such as metal, rubber, some cosmetics or lotions, or some types of plants (e.g. poison ivy). Drug reactions are another common allergic cause of rash; in this case, a rash is only one of a variety of possible symptoms, including fever, seizures, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, heartbeat irregularities, and breathing problems. This rash usually appears soon after the first dose of the course of medicine is taken.
  • Autoimmune disorders. Conditions in which the immune system turns on the bodyitself, such as systemic lupus erythematosus or purpura, often have a characteristic rash.
  • Nutritional disorders. For example, scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of Vitamin C, has a rash as one of its symptoms.
  • Cancer. A few types of cancer, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, can be the underlying cause of a rash.

Rashes are extremely common in infancy, and are usually not serious at all and can be treated at home.

Diaper rash is caused by prolonged skin contact with bacteria and the baby'swaste products in a damp diaper. This rash has red, spotty sores and there may be an ammonia smell. In most cases the rash will respond within three daysto drying efforts. A diaper rash that does not improve in this time may be ayeast infection requiring prescription medication. A doctor should be consulted if the rash is solid, bright red, causes fever, or the skin develops blisters, boils, or pus.

Infants also can get a rash on cheeks and chin caused by contact with food and stomach contents. This rash will come and go, but usually responds to a good cleaning after meals. About a third of all infants develop "acne" usually after the third week of life in response to their mothers' hormones before birth. This rash will disappear in a few weeks or a few months. Heat rash is a mass of tiny pink bumps on the back of the neck and upper back caused by blocked sweat glands. The rash usually appears during hot, humid weather, althougha baby with a fever can also develop the rash.

A baby should see a doctor immediately if the rash:

  • Appears suddenly and looks purple or blood-colored
  • Looks like a burn
  • Appearswhile the infant seems to be sick.

A physician can make a diagnosis based on the medical history and the appearance of the rash, where it appears, and any other accompanying symptoms.

Treatment of rashes focuses on resolving the underlying disorder and providing relief of the itching that often accompanies them. Soothing lotions or oralantihistamines can provide some relief, and topical antibiotics may be administered if the patient, particularly a child, has caused a secondary infection by scratching. The rash triggered by allergies should disappear as soon asthe allergen is removed; drug rashes will fade when the patient stops takingthe drug causing the allergy. For the treatment of diaper rash, the infant'sskin should be exposed to the air as much as possible; ointments are not needed unless the skin is dry and cracked. Experts also recommend switching to cloth diapers and cleaning affected skin with plain water.

Most rashes that have an acute cause, such as an infection or an allergic reaction, will disappear as soon as the infection or irritant is removed from the body's system. Rashes that are caused by chronic conditions, such as autoimmune disorders, may remain indefinitely or fade and return periodically.

Some rashes can be prevented, depending on the triggering factor. A person known to be allergic to certain drugs or substances should avoid those things in order to prevent a rash. Diaper rash can be prevented by using cloth diapers and keeping the diaper area very clean, breast feeding, and changing diapers often.

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