Although they may cause discomfort or look unsightly, most rashes are not dangerous, and will go away on their own. Even if there is an underlying condition causing the rash, in many cases it can be resolved with treatments available over-the-counter at the chemists, but if a rash persists longer than a few days; worsens; or appears without explanation, it should be assessed by a doctor.

Rashes are quite common both in adults and in children. Over the course of our lives, almost everyone will experience a rash in some form or another, and it is possible for one person to have rashes that appear differently, especially if the cause of the rash is different.

Common types of rash include eczema, hives (otherwise known as urticaria), and even fungal skin infections, such as athlete’s foot.

It’s also possible to develop a rash as a result of a bacterial infection, like folliculitis or impetigo; from a parasite, like scabies; or when someone is exposed to a virus, like in viral exanthems.

Depending on what’s causing the rash, environmental factors may play a role in triggering or exacerbating the condition – for example, during the winter months, when the heating is on, the skin becomes drier, and this can affect eczema. Similarly, fungal skin infections like athlete’s foot thrive in warm, damp conditions, such as inside tight or sweaty shoes and socks. In babies, and in some adults, diaper rash is a common form of dermatitis that can be caused by chafing, or by prolonged exposure to dampness on sensitive skin.


The term “rash” is used to refer to a wide variety of inflamed skin eruptions, which are also discoloured – commonly they are reddish in hue, but they can be differently coloured depending on the individual’s skin tone and/or the condition causing the rash.

Where the rash appears on the body can also help to diagnose its cause, since many skin conditions typically appear in certain areas and not others.

While the presentation of some rashes may be very dramatic – for example, when the skin erupts in ulcers, scaling, or scabbing – these symptoms may or may not be helpful in generating an accurate diagnosis without the help of a medical expert. However, noting such presentations (as well as their durations, and any suspected triggers) will be beneficial information to share with your doctor, especially if the symptoms appear to come and go.

An accurate diagnosis of a persistent skin rash will often require a doctor or other medical expert, and in some cases, specific tests may be needed to identify the cause of a particular rash.

Typically, rashes are described using adjectives such as "circular," "ring-shaped," "linear," or "snake-like," which help in identifying the cause.

Additionally, doctors will note other characteristics, such as;

  • Density
  • Colour
  • Size
  • Texture
  • Degree of tenderness
  • Shape
  • Temperature


The cause of any rash directly correlates to the condition, and can be as a result of environmental factors; the skin’s contact with an allergen or irritant; or caused by infection - either fungal, parasitic, bacterial or viral.

Some drugs, like antibiotics, may also cause a patient to develop a rash – it is essential to read through drug safety leaflets to understand whether such side effects are common, whether they warrant reporting to the doctor, or even mean that the patient needs to seek emergency medical attention.

Temperature, humidity, and exposure to the elements or to the conditions in certain locations may affect skin issues – for example, heat can bring about the onset of conditions such as heat rash, and the warm, moist conditions around pools and gym locker rooms can bring about types of dermatitis or cause fungal skin infections.
Rashes can be brought on, or exacerbated, when the skin comes into contact with something that triggers a reaction. While these triggers are different for each individual, some are quite common, and it can be helpful to reduce or eliminate exposure to them. Fragrances (whether a perfume or cologne; or an additive to shampoo or washing powder) are known to irritate the skin – especially if synthetic. Friction on the skin, like rubbing against something repeatedly, can also cause irritation that results in a rash. The types of food or drink a person consumes – such as spicy meals, caffeine or alcohol – may also trigger rashes, even if there is no allergy.
Some bacteria can cause rashes that indicate infection of the skin, which can be aggressive and serious, or simply more of an annoyance. Either way, they do require treatment, and depending on the seriousness, may require urgent medical attention – for example, the condition cellulitis can have life-threatening complications if left untreated. Bacteria thrive in moist, warm conditions, such as swimming pools and gym locker rooms – which is why these locations are known to cause, or worsen, skin conditions like folliculitis or fungal nail infections.
Some rashes occur as part of certain viral infections, and they can either affect the skin all over the body; be localised to certain areas; or even show up only in a specific part of the body, like cold sores. Viral rashes usually resolve on their own, but some people find over-the-counter treatments to be helpful in speeding up the process.
One of the most common rashes caused by a parasite is scabies, which is the invasion of the skin by a small insect known as a mite. These mites infect and live in the top layers of the skin, and don’t produce symptoms until the host develops an allergy to it – typically about three weeks after the initial infection. While the resulting rash looks similar to eczema, it’s important to be properly diagnosed and treated, since scabies are usually contracted by prolonged contact with another infected individual, and they can be passed on to others.

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