Your skin protects you from the outside world. It also protects you from harm on the inside by sending you signals that there’s a problem. Your skin has lots of ways of letting you know something’s wrong -- rashes, itching, spots, infections.
It’s an organ that’s always in flux. But there are certain changes to your skin your doctor needs to know about.
Peeling. It’s normal for skin to peel when it’s had a lot of sun, wind, heat, humidity, or dryness. But if it’s happening and you don’t know why, see your doctor. It could be a sign of a fungal infection, allergy, immune system disorder, cancer, or genetic disorder. Peeling can also be a symptom of treatable skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
Infection. Wounds happen. But if they don’t heal normally and infection sets in, it can cause problems. Talk to your doctor if you have an injury that is:
- Oozing pus
- Accompanied by a fever
- Turning redder over time
- Very tender to the touch
- Still hurting after 10 days
Also, watch for red streaks that start at your wound and go beyond the infected site.
Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling. Does it hurt when clothes touch your skin? Are parts of your skin numb? Or does it feel like pins and needles are pricking you? All of these can be signs of nerve problems.
Rashes. Most of these aren’t serious, but sometimes they can hint at a real problem. Your doctor will want to know if you have a rash that is:
- All over your body
- Giving you a fever
- Sudden and spreading quickly
- Tender or peeling
Also, if you get a rash right after you eat certain foods or medications, it could be sign of an allergic reaction. These typically happen within 2 hours of eating those foods or taking the drugs. Sometimes they happen within a few minutes. Food and medication allergies usually show up on your skin as hives -- raised, itchy bumps that are either red or skin-colored.
Call your doctor if you have any of these things with your hives. It could be a sign of anaphylaxis -- a whole-body allergic reaction. It affects your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. It’s very serious, and can even be fatal.
See a dermatologist if you have a rash that doesn't go away or keeps coming back. Common skin conditions that cause rashes include eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
Itching. Poison ivy, mosquito bites, and head lice can make you itch. So can skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, infections like ringworm, and diseases like chickenpox and shingles. Sometimes, itching is even a sign of an underlying illness that affects your whole body.
See your doctor or a dermatologist if itchy skin:
- Happens suddenly for no known reason
- Interferes with your daily life
- Lasts longer than 2 weeks
- Covers your whole body
- Comes with other symptoms like fever, night sweats, or weight loss
Skin Changes as a Sign of Disease
In some cases, your skin might show you the first sign of something serious happening inside your body. It can be the clue that points your doctor toward a diagnosis.
- Yellow, reddish, or brown patches that start out like pimples
- Dark, velvety skin on the back of your neck, armpit, or groin
- Hard, thick skin on fingers and toes
- Painless blisters on your hands, feet, legs, or forearms
- Hot, swollen, painful skin
- Open sores
- Brown spots on your shins
- Extremely dry, itchy skin
- Lots of skin tags
Adrenal disease. Problems with your adrenal glands, like Addison’s disease, can show up in the creases, scars, or joints of your skin. This can make them darker.
Skin cancer. This is the most common form of cancer. But your doctor may not give you regular skin exams unless you have a family history. Be sure to check your skin regularly so that you’ll know when something doesn’t look right.
Here’s what to check for:
- Pearly, tan, brown, black, or multicolored skin growths that get bigger over time
- Any brown spot (mole or birthmark) that changes color, size, or texture
- Moles with an odd or uneven shape
- Moles bigger than a pencil eraser
- Any new mole, mark, or growth that appears after age 21
- Spots or sores that won’t stop itching, hurting, crusting, scabbing, or bleeding
- Sores that don’t heal in 3 weeks
Early detection is key. The sooner you get strange spots checked out, the better your chances of treating the problem before it becomes a bigger one.