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First aid

Rash - localized and cause unknown

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Impetigo of Elbow
Impetigo of Elbow

Erythema Migrans Rash
Erythema Migrans Rash

Ringworm Rash on Arm
Ringworm Rash on Arm

Ringworm Rash on Leg
Ringworm Rash on Leg

Shingles on Chest
Shingles on Chest

Shingles on Neck
Shingles on Neck

  • Rash on one part of the body (localized or clustered)
  • Small spots, large spots or solid red
  • Cause of rash is unknown

General Information

  • Three localized rashes that individuals may be able to recognize are: Athlete's Foot, insect bites, and poison ivy. If present, use that topic. If not, use this topic.
  • The main cause of a new localized rash is often skin contact with some irritant.
  • The main cause of a persistent localized rash is often contact dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to skin contact with some substance.
  • Cellulitis is the medical term for an infection of the skin. There is spreading redness. The skin is also painful, tender to touch, and warm. There may or may not be any drainage or discharge. Antibiotic treatment is required.

If not, see these topics

When to Call Your Doctor

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Purple or blood-colored spots or dots that are not from injury
  • Bright red area or red streak (but not sunburn)
  • Rash area is very painful
  • Multiple small blisters grouped together in one area of body
  • Fever
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think you need to be seen
  • Severe itching is present
  • Genital area rash
  • Lyme disease suspected (e.g., bull's eye rash or tick bite in past month)
  • Tender bumps in armpits
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Looks like a boil or infected sore or other infected rash
  • Rash lasts longer than 7 days
Self Care at Home If
  • Mild localized rash and you don't think you need to be seen

General Care Advice for Mild Localized Rash
  1. Avoid the Cause: Try to find the cause. Consider irritants like a plant (e.g., poison ivy or evergreens), chemicals (e.g., solvents or insecticides), fiberglass, a new cosmetic, or new jewelry (called contact dermatitis). A pet may be carrying the irritating substance (e.g., with poison ivy or poison oak).
  2. Avoid Soap: Wash the area once thoroughly with soap to remove any remaining irritants. Thereafter avoid soaps to this area. Cleanse the area when needed with warm water.
  3. Local Cold: Apply or soak in cold water for 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours to reduce itching or pain.
  4. Hydrocortisone Cream for Itching: If the itch is more than mild, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream 4 times a day to reduce itching. Use it for 5 days.
    • Keep the cream in the refrigerator (Reason: it feels better if applied cold).
    • Available over-the-counter in U.S. as 0.5% and 1% cream.
    • Available over-the-counter in Canada as 0.5% cream.
    • CAUTION: Do not use hydrocortisone cream on suspected Athlete's Foot, Jock Itch, ringworm, or impetigo.
  5. Avoid Scratching: Try not to scratch. Cut your fingernails short.
  6. Contagiousness: Adults with localized rashes do not need to miss any work or school.
  7. Expected Course: Most of these rashes pass in 2 to 3 days.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Rash spreads or becomes worse
    • Rash lasts longer than 1 week
    • You develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
General Care Advice for Pimples
  1. Reassurance: A pimple is a tiny, superficial infection without any redness. Pimples can occur with acne or friction.
  2. Cleansing: Wash the infected area with warm water and an antibacterial soap 3 times a day.
  3. Antibiotic Ointment: Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to the infected area 3 times per day.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Redness occurs
    • Fever occurs
    • More pimples occur
    • You develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 4/7/2008

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Online

Portions Copyright 2000-2009 Self Care Decisions LLC; Copyright LMS, Inc.

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