MD Insights: Dr. Yost on Rashes
Developing a rash can be scary and confusing. From an MD’s perspective here’s what you need to know.
First of all, what even is a rash? Sometimes we as doctors are so focused on diagnosing, we neglect to explain what you’re actually going through. Let’s demystify this frustrating topic:
A rash, first and foremost, is an immune response. When your body encounters an irritant, allergen, infection or some other trigger, it recognizes it as harmful or foreign, and subsequently kicks off a series of chemical responses.
Your immune cells often trigger this response. With the release of certain chemicals like histamine, this response can cause redness, swelling and warmth. The same response can also stimulate your nerve endings, which results in the characteristic itching and discomfort that accompanies rashes.
- What symptoms am I experiencing?
- Does the rash come and go, or come and stay?
- Is the rash itchy or painful? And finally,
- Do I need to seek medical assistance?
Your answer to the first couple questions will determine your answer to the final, so let’s start with those.
First and most importantly, if the rash is accompanied by difficulty breathing or with a fever, please call 911 or visit the emergency room. These are both signs of a possible allergic reaction or an infection and require immediate care.
Thankfully, those are the rarer of cases. Let’s look at more common symptoms:
If the rash is,
- painful or infected
- begins to blister, or
- sores begin to open
- covering the majority of your body
- sudden and spreads rapidly
- not improving past 2-5 days
If the rash is,
- localized to one spot
- comes and goes
- NOT continually spreading
- uncomfortable but not painful
- only slightly itchy
If your symptoms fall into the Your Choice category, then you decide how to proceed! It’s always OK to still seek medical help if you are unsure. However, if you would like to try and avoid the time and expense of a doctor’s visit, you can first try a couple simple tools for managing your symptoms at home. Here are my recommendations:
For managing light inflammation and itchiness, you can’t go wrong with Benadryl either in pill or cream form. Take an over the counter antihistamine at regular intervals to take the bite off the discomfort.
For itch relief, there are several great options. A simple ice compress can go a long way. You can also try a colloidal oatmeal bath- a treatment that also happens to be very relaxing. Both of these can be used in conjunction with your preferred antihistamine.
These simple remedies are great methods to manage your symptoms while waiting to see if the condition improves, sustains, or worsens.
How should I treat my rash?
1. Beneadryl (pill or cream form)
For managing light inflammation and itchiness, you can’t go wrong with Benadryl. Benadryl is an antihistamine that helps alleviate itching and can reduce allergic reactions.
When taking Benadryl orally to treat a rash, follow these guidelines:
First and foremost, always follow the dosing instructions provided on the packaging. Typically, the adult dose is between 25-50 mg every 4-6 hours as needed. For children, the dose will depend on their age and weight. Do not exceed the recommended dosage or frequency without medical advice, as this can result in adverse side effects. You can use the medication for as long as necessary to relieve the symptoms, but if the rash persists or worsens, consult a healthcare professional.
Benadryl is also available in topical forms, such as creams and lotions, designed to be applied directly to the affected skin. When taking Benadryl topically to treat a rash, do the following:
Clean the affected area before applying the topical Benadryl. Before I move on, I know cleaning a rash can be intimidating, so here are a couple recommendations for how to do it:
- First, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- When washing the affected area, use a mild soap and lukewarm water. If you’re unsure which soaps are considered mild, typically those made for babies are gentle and would work well. Make sure to clean the rash gently; there is no need for vigorous scrubbing which can worsen irritation.
- When you’re done washing, pat the area dry, instead of rubbing. Use a clean, soft towel, and again, gentleness is key. After patting, allow the rash to further air dry before applying any medication.
- Avoid using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Although they are often used for cleansing wounds, they are typically not appropriate for a rash as they can be harsh and may further irritate the skin.
When the rash is cleansed and dry, you can move on to medication application. When using topical Benadryl or any other topical antihistamine, make sure to follow the instructions on the product label or those given by your doctor. Use the topical Benadryl as often as needed to relieve the itching or irritation, but avoid excessive use as it can actually cause further skin irritation, dryness, and even an allergic reaction if overused. If you experience any adverse effects, you see no improvement, or the rash worsens, you should seek medical advice.
2. Ice Compress
Using an ice compress is my first of two recommendations for relieving itchiness and irritation. Here’s how you can use this simple technique:
To prepare an ice compress, fill a sealable plastic bag with crushed ice or ice cubes. Add a small amount of water before pressing out as much air as possible and closing the seal. If you don’t have a sealable plastic bag on hand or don’t have ready access to ice, a bag of frozen vegetables can also work well. After the compress is prepared, wrap it in a thin, clean cloth or towel. This prevents direct contact between the ice and your skin and will significantly lower chances of ice burn or further irritation.
When you’re ready, gently place the wrapped compress on the itchy area and hold it there for 10 to 15 minutes. There is no need for hard pressure; as always, gentleness is key.
Keep watch on the skin and be mindful of how it feels; 10 to 15 minutes is a recommendation to be followed at your own discretion. If it starts to become too cold or uncomfortable, remove the compress.
You can repeat as necessary throughout the day, but it’s best to wait at least 30 minutes between applications. Excessive use of ice can cause further irritation or skin damage.
While this method is great for managing your symptoms at home, remember that it does not treat the root cause of the rash. It is a great technique paired with an oral antihistamine, and can be used while waiting to see if the rash will improve, sustain or worsen. If the rash sustains for more than a couple days, or if its condition worsens, seek professional medical attention.
3. Colloidal Oatmeal Bath
Colloidal Oatmeal is simply finely ground oatmeal that has been suspended in water. This process releases many properties in oats that are beneficial for soothing and treating skin irritation and itchiness. Different elements in colloidal oatmeal provide anti-inflammatory, hydrating and moisturizing effects as well as gentle cleansing and pH-balancing. It’s a completely natural and impressively versatile remedy for mild skin conditions, and has been used for centuries. There is even evidence of civilizations like the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks including it in their bathing rituals for its cleansing and nourishing effects.
So, how can we use this ancient home-remedy today? Here are my recommendations:
The first step is to buy colloidal oatmeal! You can find colloidal oatmeal in most drug stores or online. It will be labeled simply “colloidal oatmeal” or “bath oatmeal”. One of the most highly recommended and basic versions is Aveeno’s Soothing Bath Treatment. It goes for 8$ on Amazon!
Once you have your colloidal oatmeal, follow the instructions on the packaging. The specific usage guidelines may vary. However, typically they will be similar to the following:
Fill your bathtub with lukewarm water (hot water can be an irritant). Then, sprinkle the recommended amount of colloidal oatmeal right into the running water as the tub fills. This will help the mixture spread evenly throughout the bath. After the tub is filled to the desired level, use your hand to gently stir the water one more time. This will ensure the mixture is dispersed evenly throughout. You should now have a soothing, milky bath.
Now you can lower yourself into the bathtub and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure to keep the infected area of your skin completely submerged to maximize the effects of the bath. After you’re done soaking, gently rinse yourself off with lukewarm, clean water. Pat your skin dry with a soft towel and allow the affected area to air dry.
You can take colloidal baths as often as necessary to relieve symptoms, but be careful to avoid over-bathing or excessive use, as this can cause the skin to dry out. As I mentioned with the other home-remedies, avoid harsh soaps, scrubbing or any other treatment that is not gentle on the skin. And finally, similarly to the other remedies, this is an effective treatment for managing symptoms at home while waiting to see if the condition improves, sustains, or worsens. If the rash lasts for more than a couple days, or begins to worsen, you should seek medical attention.
*If you have any further questions about the above, feel free to submit them below through our Ask Dr. Yost form below!
Dr. James Yost, Chief Medical Officer at CRH Healthcare
An Emory alum with 30 years of healthcare experience and 17 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Yost cares deeply about the patient experience, inside and outside our centers. Starting this year, Dr. Yost will be answering our patients’ most common questions through MD Insights, with practical and trustworthy advice.
Know Before You Go
Feeling less than your best? Patriot Urgent Care is ready to help you Get in. Get out. Get better.
- No appointments or referrals needed.
- Check-in and register online to wait where you want – we’ll text you 20 minutes before your visit.
- Most insurance plans accepted or review our self-pay pricing.
- Please bring a valid ID, form of payment, and list of current medications.
- Please call the center if the patient is under age 2 before visiting.
Please call 911 if you are experiencing a life-threatening condition.