Got Skin Problems?
Is your skin itching, breaking out, covered in a rash, or playing host to strange spots? Skin inflammation, changes in texture or color, and spots may be the result of infection, a chronic skin condition, or contact with an allergen or irritant. You can learn to recognize common adult skin problems. Yet, while many are minor, they may signal something more serious, so always consult a doctor for proper diagnosis.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Shingles starts with burning, tingling, or very sensitive skin. A rash of raised dots develops into painful blisters that last about two weeks. Shingles often occurs on the trunk and buttocks, but can appear anywhere. Most people recover, but pain, numbness, and itching linger for many -- and may last for months, years, or the rest of their lives. Treatment with antiviral drugs, steroids, antidepressants, and topical agents can help.
A common allergic reaction that looks like welts, hives are often itchy, and sometimes stinging or burning. Hives vary in size and may join together to form larger areas. They may appear anywhere and last minutes or days. Medications, foods, food additives, temperature extremes, and infections like strep throat are some causes of hives. Antihistamines can provide relief.
A non-contagious rash of thick red plaques covered with white or silvery scales, psoriasis usually affects the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back. The rash can heal and recur throughout life. The cause of psoriasis is unknown, but the immune system triggers new skin cells to develop too quickly. Treatments include medications applied to the skin, light therapy, and medications taken by mouth, injection or infusion.
Eczema describes several non-contagious conditions where skin is inflamed, red, dry, and itchy. Stress, irritants (like soaps), allergens, and climate can trigger flare-ups though they're not eczema's exact cause, which is unknown. In adults, eczema often occurs on the elbows and hands, and in "bending" areas, such as inside the elbows. Treatments include topical or oral medications and shots.
Often beginning as a tendency to flush easily, rosacea causes redness on the nose, chin, cheeks, forehead, even the eyes. The redness may intensify over time, taking on a ruddy appearance with visible blood vessels. In some cases, thickened skin, bumps and pus-filled pimples can develop. Rosacea treatment includes medications as well as surgical procedures such as laser therapy, dermabrasion, and electrocautery to reshape affected areas.
Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)
Small, painful, fluid-filled blisters on the mouth or nose, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Lasting about 10 days, cold sores are very contagious. Triggers can include fever, too much sun, stress, or hormonal changes such as menstruation. Antiviral pills or creams can be used as treatment, but call your doctor if sores contain pus, there is spreading redness, you have a fever, or if your eyes become irritated.
Rash From Plants
Contact with the oily coating from poison ivy, oak, and sumac causes a rash in many people. It begins with redness and swelling at the contact site, then becomes intensely itchy with the development of blisters usually 12 to 72 hours after exposure. The typical rash is arranged as a red line on an exposed area, caused by the plant dragging across the skin. The rash usually lasts up to two weeks.
Soothe Itchy Plant Rashes
Prescription or over-the-counter medication may soothe the itching of mild rashes. Cool compresses and oatmeal baths may help with symptoms. For a severe rash, oral corticosteroid may be given. If the skin becomes infected, antibiotics may be necessary. Avoiding direct contact with the plants can prevent the rash, so learn to recognize poisonous plants. In general, poison oak grows west of the Rockies; poison ivy to the east.
Razor bumps are tiny, irritated bumps that develop after shaving. People with curly hair are most affected by them. The sharp edge of closely shaven hair can curl back and grow into the skin, causing irritation and pimples, and even scarring. To minimize razor bumps, take a hot shower before shaving, shave in the direction of hair growth, and don't stretch the skin while shaving. Rinse with cold water, then apply moisturizer.
A skin tag is a small flap of flesh-colored or slightly darker tissue that hangs off the skin by a connecting stalk. They're usually found on the neck, chest, back, armpits, under the breasts, or in the groin area. Skin tags appear most often in women and elderly people. They are not dangerous and usually don't cause pain unless they become irritated by clothing or nearby skin rubbing against them. A doctor can remove a skin tag by cutting, freezing, or burning it off.
At the heart of acne lies a clogged pore from oil and dead skin cells that can become inflamed. When open, it is called a blackhead or open comedo; closed, a whitehead or closed comedo. Often seen on the face, chest, and back, acne can be triggered by hormones and bacteria. To help control it, keep oily areas clean and don't squeeze pimples (it may cause infection and scars).
A fungal skin infection that can cause peeling, redness, itching, burning, and sometimes blisters and sores, athlete's foot is contagious, passed by direct contact, sharing shoes worn by an infected person, or by walking barefoot in areas such as locker rooms or near pools. It's usually treated with topical antifungal lotions or oral medications for more severe cases. Keeping feet and the inside of shoes clean and dry is important in treatment.
Usually brown or black, moles can be anywhere on the body, alone or in groups, and generally appear before age 20. Some moles (not all) change slowly over the years, becoming raised, developing hair, and/or changing color. While most are non-cancerous, some moles have a higher risk of becoming cancerous. Have a dermatologist evaluate moles that change, have irregular borders, unusual or uneven color, bleed, or itch.
Age or Liver Spots
These pesky brown or gray spots are not really caused by aging, though they do become more common as people age. They're the result of sun exposure, which is why they tend to appear on areas that get a lot of sun, such as the face, hands, and arms. Bleaching creams, acid peels, and light-based treatments may lessen their appearance. To rule out serious skin conditions such as melanoma, see a dermatologist for proper identification.
A harmless rash, pityriasis rosea usually begins with a single, scaly pink patch with a raised border. Days to weeks later, a scaly rash appears on the arms, legs, back, chest, and abdomen, and sometimes the neck. The rash may appear "Christmas tree" shaped across the body. The rash, whose cause is unknown, isn't believed to be contagious and can be itchy. It often goes away in 6-8 weeks without treatment. Pityriasis rosea is most often seen between the ages of 10 and 35.
Melasma ('Pregnancy Mask')
Melasma (chloasma) is characterized by tan or brown patches on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Although usually called the "pregnancy mask," men can also develop it. Melasma occurs in half of all women during pregnancy. It may go away after pregnancy but, if it persists, can be treated with prescription creams and over-the-counter products. Use a sunscreen at all times if you have melasma, as sunlight worsens the condition.
In most cases, common warts appear on the fingers or hands. Caused by contact with the contagious human papillomavirus, warts can spread from person to person or via contact with something used by a person with the virus. You can prevent spreading warts by not picking them, covering them with bandages, and keeping them dry. In most cases, warts are harmless, painless, and go away on their own. If they persist, treatments include topical medications, freezing, burning, surgery, lasers, and chemicals.
Noncancerous growths that may develop with age, seborrheic keratoses can appear on many areas of the skin either alone or in groups. They may be dark or multicolored, and they usually have a grainy surface, though they can be smooth and waxy. No treatment is necessary unless irritation develops or their appearance is a concern. Because seborrheic keratoses may be mistaken for moles or skin cancer, see a dermatologist for proper diagnosis.