How to Identify 10 Common Skin Rashes

A rash is an area of irritated or swollen skin that can be itchy, red, and painful and may involve blisters, bumps, or areas of raw skin. Rashes are symptoms of conditions that can come about in response to an allergy, toxin, infection, or larger systemic disease.

The appearance of a rash can range from an almost incidental swelling of tissues to an outbreak of painful eruptive sores. Some outbreaks may be localized, while others can be generalized. Rashes can sometimes be tough to distinguish—even for a trained eye.

Broadly speaking, a rash can be classified as either infectious or non-infectious, and there are many different types and possible causes. 

Here are 10 of the most common rashes and how they can be identified.

Impetigo

Impetigo rash beneath a mans lower lip

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Impetigo is a common infection of the skin caused by either streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria. Impetigo occurs most commonly on the face or limbs and is characterized by the following features:

  • The eruption of red sores that leak clear fluid or pus
  • Formation of a honey-colored crust

The bacteria typically enter the body through broken or abraded skin such as a cut, scrape, burn, or insect bite. Children often develop impetigo after a cold when the skin around their noses becomes raw from using tissues, providing easy access for bacteria. 

A less common form of impetigo, called bullous impetigo, is characterized by the development of large blisters known as bullae. This form is more commonly seen in young children.

While the honey-colored crust is usually the tell-tale sign of impetigo, a bacterial culture may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Although impetigo may cause minor itchiness, it is generally not painful (unlike shingles or other types of eruptive lesions).

As a bacterial infection, impetigo is typically treated with antibiotics.

Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete's foot

 ussaquarius / Getty Images

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection. The characteristic symptoms of athlete's foot include:

  • A red rash, primarily between the toes or on the soles of the feet
  • Discomfort ranging from mild itchiness and flaking to painful blisters with breaks in the skin

Athlete's foot can occur between the toes (referred to as interdigital tinea pedis), develop mainly on the soles (scaly, moccasin-type tinea pedis), or cause a blister-like outbreak (acute vesicular tinea pedis).

Athlete's foot is easily spread in moist, unhygienic environments, such as spas and locker room floors, and is typically treated with topical antifungals.

Because it is so common, athlete's foot is usually recognized by appearance alone. However, other conditions such as plaque psoriasis and pityriasis can cause similar symptoms and may need to be investigated if the rash does not respond to antifungal treatment.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis (plaque type)

DR P. MARAZZI/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder that is chronic and inflammatory. It can be triggered by stress, medications, infection, skin injury, and environmental triggers like the sun. Around 1% to 8% of the global population is affected by this skin condition.

Psoriasis occurs when the immune system inappropriately attacks its own skin cells, triggering inflammation and the hyperproduction of cells. The rash is formed when new skin cells are produced faster than the old ones can be shed.

Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis. Symptoms include:

  • Red patches of skin covered with thick, silvery scales
  • Itching, burning, and/or soreness
  • Skin flaking
  • Cracked, dry skin that can bleed when scratched

Plaque psoriasis is most commonly seen on the elbows and knees, as well as the scalp. Other types of psoriasis include pustular psoriasis (characterized by pus-filled lesions) and guttate psoriasis (seen mainly in children).

Psoriasis can often be diagnosed by its appearance but occasionally requires a skin biopsy for confirmation. Because there are no blood tests that can definitively diagnose psoriasis, it may be necessary to rule out other similar skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, lichen planus, pityriasis, or squamous cell skin cancer.

The treatment varies by the severity of the outbreak and may include topical steroids, immunosuppressants, and UV light therapy. Psoriasis can sometimes resolve spontaneously without treatment and recur just as suddenly.

Shingles

Herpes Zoster (Shingles)
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Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the varicella virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The lifetime risk of developing shingles can run anywhere from 20% to 30%, particularly in high-risk groups, such as people with compromised immune systems. 

Shingles typically occurs later in life and symptoms generally present in two phases:

  • Pre-eruptive stage: Shingles often begins with a dull, localized ache and an increased sensitivity to touch.
  • Eruptive stage: Soon after, a cluster of tiny, painful blisters will appear, many of which will burst and scab over. (Shingles is contagious during this blistering phase.)

Shingles almost invariably occurs on only one side of the body and is limited to an area of skin supplied by a single spinal nerve, also known as a dermatome.

Shingles is also characterized by pain, the severity of which can range from prickly, persistent discomfort to deep, excruciating pain.

In some people, shingles can cause long-term (and sometimes) permanent nerve pain known as postherpetic neuralgia. This is especially true in older adults and those who leave the condition untreated.

It is important to see a doctor as soon as you recognize the characteristic rash of fluid-filled blisters. Early treatment with antiviral drugs such as Zovirax (acyclovir) can shorten the duration of an outbreak and prevent the spread of the rash to vulnerable parts of the body, including the eyes.

A highly effective shingles vaccine known as Shingrix (recombinant zoster vaccine) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October 2017. Vaccination is recommended for all adults 50 and older.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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