image of a woman scratching a rash on her neck

rash symptoms:

important things to know, with advice from Dr. Cynthia E. Collins.

An itchy rash can be worrisome, especially when it appears out of nowhere. With so many possible causes, figuring out mystery rash symptoms isn’t always easy.

Even if you know precisely why it’s there – that vine you touched earlier turned out to be poison ivy after all – a rash is more than irritating. It can be painful and scary. And if you don’t know what’s causing the bumps, blisters, or swelling, you can make a rash worse with the wrong treatment.

MDLIVE board-certified doctors care for thousands of patients with rashes each year. Dr. Cynthia E. Collins, MDLIVE Clinical Medical Director, shares her tips on how to get rid of rashes in a rush.

Get the facts on rashes.

No matter why you have a rash, you want quick relief. Dr. Collins explains the differences between common rashes and how to get the fastest relief from the comfort of home.

What causes a rash?

Itchy rashes can erupt for many reasons. Some of the most common causes are:

three leaves on one stem

Poisonous plants
(Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac)


Insect bites

a person sneezes into a tissue


heat rash caused by sun exposure


a rash and hives on a person's back

Medication reactions

pair of latex gloves

Adverse reactions to dyed products, latex, or other allergens

A virus can be picked up by touch


Underarm rash

Intertrigo (friction rash)

Some rashes, like contact dermatitis from an irritant, aren’t contagious. Other types, like viral rashes or poison oak, can spread to others. And some can be dangerous if left untreated.

Common symptoms of a rash:

Rash symptoms can often look the same regardless of the cause. A rash is a visual cue that you have inflammation, whether your skin is red, dry, scaly, welted, blotchy, blistery, or itchy. But certain types of rashes cause telltale symptoms:1

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Irritant contact dermatitis

redness, severe itching, swelling, bumps, and blisters

redness, severe itching, swelling, bumps, and blisters


itchy, red, cracked, rough skin

itchy, red, cracked, rough skin

Insect bites

red, swollen skin, hives, intense itching, burning

red, swollen skin, hives, intense itching, burning

Heat rash

small, stinging red lumps or clear, itchy liquid-filled bumps on the skin

small, stinging red lumps or clear, itchy liquid-filled bumps

Drug reaction

A drug reaction can produce red bumps, blisters, or hives on the skin

red bumps, blisters, or hives

Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac

Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac can produce intensely itchy, red blisters on the skin

intensely itchy, red blisters

Viral rash

A viral rash can produces patches of splotchy red spots

patches of splotchy red spots


Intertrigo can produce red or reddish-brown rash, raw, itchy, cracked skin

red or reddish-brown rash, raw, itchy, cracked skin

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“If you aren’t sure why you’re experiencing rash symptoms, getting help from a doctor when symptoms first appear can ensure it gets treated properly. Rashes need to be cared for differently than chronic skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, and certain infections. Specialist or dermatology care is better for ongoing conditions. Getting care quickly for an unexpected rash can help relieve irritating symptoms and determine if your symptoms signify something more serious.”

What treatments are available for rashes?

Depending on the type of rash you have, a doctor can determine what type of prescription or over-the-counter medication is best for your rash, or if home remedies can help:

Medications and over-the-counter treatments include:

  • Corticosteroid cream or ointment
  • Antibiotics
  • Prednisone
  • Antihistamines
  • Calamine lotion
  • Medicated shampoos, if rash is on the scalp
  • Menthol creams


  • 2

At-home things to try:

  • Oatmeal bath in lukewarm water
  • Cool, moist compresses
  • Avoid allergens that can cause rashes (detergents, overly hot baths, cleaning products) Anything can become an allergen for some people, including these 5 uncommon allergies.
  • Humidifier
  • Moisturize with a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cream or lotion.

How can you get help without going to a doctor’s office?

If you can’t identify a mystery rash or just need relief fast, a doctor can assess and help relieve your symptoms. MDLIVE offers reliable 24/7 health care by phone or video, so you can talk to a board-certified doctor in minutes and get a prescription sent to your preferred pharmacy if needed.

Dr. Collins’ perspective –
when to have an MDLIVE Urgent Care appointment.

“Some rashes will clear up on their own, while others require medical care. If you’re unsure, or your rash isn’t going away, have an appointment with an MDLIVE doctor if:

  • Your rash lasts longer than a week

  • Your rash doesn’t seem to be improving or is getting worse

  • Your rash is spreading to other parts of your body

  • Your skin starts to blister

  • Your skin is red, swelling, or oozing

  • Your rash is painful, and you need relief3

If you’re experiencing other severe symptoms4 alongside your rash, like fever, pain, trouble breathing, or severe blistering, seek emergency medical attention.”

  • 3
  • 4If you have a medical or mental health emergency, call 911. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a life-threatening condition or acute or severe symptoms.

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Phone with doctor on screen