Skin rashes in adults are common, and most are temporary and clear up on their own. There are some rashes, however, that indicate a more serious health problem that requires treatment. Let’s take a look at what might be causing your adult-onset rash.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that causes itchiness, dry skin, scaly patches, and possibly blisters and skin infections. Children aren’t the only ones who develop eczema, also called atopic dermatitis (AD). About 25% of adults with moderate to severe eczema report that it first appeared during adulthood, most commonly when they were in their 50s. Eczema patches can be intensely itchy, causing enough discomfort to keep you awake at night. The skin may be extremely dry and scaly, eventually leading to thick, leathery, discolored patches. Eczema in adults commonly appears on the backs of the knees, in the crooks of the elbows, on the back of the neck, and on the face. Treatment is available for eczema.
Contact dermatitis is an allergic skin reaction typically occurring within a few hours or days of exposure to an allergenic substance. The rash might be itchy and cause dry, cracked, or scaly skin. Bumps or blisters can occur, sometimes with oozing or crusting (such as with poison ivy). Swelling, burning, or tenderness may be present. Darker skin may become hyperpigmented, creating dark leathery patches. If you avoid further contact with the irritant, the rash should clear up within two to four weeks. If the rash doesn’t begin to resolve on its own, or if it is widespread, severely itchy, infected, or you’re having respiratory issues after inhaling an irritant, seek medical attention.
Also called urticaria, hives are a skin reaction characterized by itchy welts. Hives may be associated with an allergic reaction, but some people get hives for no known reason. Chronic hives are hives that last for more than six weeks and come and go over the course of months or years. They can be very uncomfortable and may be triggered by heat, stress, or exercise. Chronic hives that are not related to an allergic reaction do not put you at sudden risk of anaphylaxis. There are treatments that can help you deal with the discomfort of chronic hives, such as antihistamines.
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection. It causes redness, swelling, and pain, and the rash is warm and tender to the touch. The skin may appear pitted, like an orange peel, or blisters may occur. Fever and chills may accompany the rash. Cellulitis can occur anywhere, but it is most common on the legs or feet. Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics.
Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After having chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in the body and can reappear later as shingles. A shingles rash typically develops on one side of the face or body and consists of blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clear up within 2 to 4 weeks. Shingles is contagious. It can be prevented with the shingles vaccine, and treatments are available to help it clear up more quickly and relieve the pain.
Pityriasis Rosea is a temporary rash that affects children and young adults typically up to age 35. It is often identified by what is called the “herald patch,” a single pink or red oval patch of scaly skin that appears a couple of days before the more widespread rash develops. The widespread rash consists of small, raised, scaly patches of 1.5 cm or less covering the chest, back, stomach, neck, upper arms and/or upper thighs. The rash doesn’t hurt, but it can itch. It usually clears up on its own within 12 weeks.
People with diabetes are susceptible to a number of different types of skin rashes and skin changes. If you don’t have diabetes, one of these rashes might be a warning sign of high blood sugar or prediabetes. Diabetes rashes may look like the following:
- Light-brown, round scaly patches on the shins that look like age spots called diabetes-related dermopathy (these don’t need treatment)
- Fungal infections that cause tiny itchy red blisters or scales
- In Type 1 diabetics, a hard, thick, waxy skin on the backs of the hands called digital sclerosis.
- Mostly in women, an itchy, painful lower leg rash consisting of raised, red, shiny patches with a yellow center called necrobiosis lipoidica diabeticorum (NLD)
- Foot ulcers due to trauma to the skin
- Dark, velvety bands of discolored skin called acanthosis nigricans.
- Itchy rings or arcs on the fingers, hands, feet, and ears called disseminated granuloma annulare
- Firm, yellow, pea-sized bumps that are encircled in red and may itch called eruptive xanthomatosis
- Itchy purple bumps sometimes with a white lacy pattern on the ankles or wrists, or in the mouth, called lichen planus
Any rash of concern should be seen by a dermatologist. Some rashes can be easily misdiagnosed. A dermatologist is a skin specialist, and the best person to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the skin.