Painful Rash Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your painful rash symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

  1. 10 Possible Painful Rash Causes
  2. Real-Life Stories
  3. Painful Rash FAQ
  4. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  5. Statistics
  6. Related Articles

10 Possible Painful Rash Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced painful rash. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Skin abscess

A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.

Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.

If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash

Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi...

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Toxic epidermal necrolysis

Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a serious, potentially life-threatening skin condition characterized by redness, severe blistering, and widespread skin detachment and peeling. Toxic epidermal necrolysis can spread rapidly and affect greater than 30 percent of ...

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Sunburn is an acute condition related to excess exposure to ultraviolet rays. It usually resolves over the course of a few days and acute symptoms can be managed; however, it can have morbid long-term effects if the sunburn is particularly severe. Symptoms include reddening of the skin (erythema), fluid-filled bump...

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Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.

Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.

Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.

Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.

A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.

Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash

Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border

Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes

Urgency: Self-treatment

Painful Rash Symptom Checker

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Non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation)

Nonspecific dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, simply means inflammation of the skin from many different causes.

Most nonspecific dermatitis is caused by skin contact with a substance that provokes a reaction, which could be anything from plants to soap to jewelry to fabrics. Some may be due to an autoimmune condition, where the body's immune system attacks itself.

Risk factors include a family or personal history of allergies, asthma, or other condition which weakens the immune system; or constant contact with metals, plant life, or chemicals.

Symptoms commonly include red, swollen skin rash with itching, blistering, or oozing, which may become painful and infected.

Dermatitis itself is not contagious but can interfere with quality of life. A medical provider can help with managing the symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes skin biopsy and patch testing.

Treatment involves using protective measures if the substances cannot be avoided; making nutritional improvements to strengthen the immune system; using corticosteroid or other creams; and phototherapy.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: red rash, itchy rash, painful rash

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation): red rash

Urgency: Self-treatment

Skin infection (cellulitis)

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that can affect the skin of any part of the body. Cellulitis most commonly appears on the legs in adults and on the head in children. It can be the result of any condition that compromises the protective barrier of the ski...

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Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles is a painful rash that results when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes the chickenpox — becomes reactivated. It results in a painful rash of small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) over a single strip of skin on one side of the body...

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Pressure ulcer

Pressure Ulcer, or bed sores, are areas of damaged skin caused by staying in one position for too long. They commonly form where the bones come close to the skin, such as the ankles, back, elbows, heels and hips.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, loss of appetite, painful rash, butt pain, pain in one knee

Symptoms that always occur with pressure ulcer: sunken area of the rash has broken the skin, rash resembling a pressure ulcer

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Boil (furuncle)

A furuncle, also called a boil, is infection of a hair follicle. The infection forms under the skin at the root of the hair and may occur anywhere on the body.

The infection is caused by bacteria, most often Staphylococcus aureus or "staph." Irritation caused by clothes or anything else rubbing the skin can cause the skin to break down and allow bacteria to enter.

Staph bacteria are found everywhere. Frequent and thorough handwashing, and otherwise maintaining cleanliness, will help to prevent its spread.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system; diabetes; and other skin infections.

Symptoms include a single bump under the skin that is swollen, painful, and red, and contains pus.

It is important to treat the boil, since infection can spread into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes fluid sample from the boil.

Treatment may involve incision and drainage of the infection, followed by creams to apply to the site of the boil and/or a course of antibiotic medicine.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump, constant skin changes

Symptoms that always occur with boil (furuncle): pink or red facial bump

Symptoms that never occur with boil (furuncle): fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Real-life Stories

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FAQs About Painful Rash

Here are some frequently asked questions about painful rash.

What does a meningitis rash look like?

A rash commonly associated with meningitis is called a petechial rash, and involves small, dark red or purple spots along the trunk or lower portions of the body. They can grow in size to large, purple bruise-like lesions and correlate with the destruction of platelets in the blood. Meningitis can be a life-threatening disease needing immediate evalutation and treatment.

Why does my child get a rash when they are sick?

Rashes are common among children and are often caused by interactions between the immune system and the skin. A physical examination and possibly a culture or blood test are necessary to determine the specific cause of a rash caused by an illness in a child.

Do shingles cause a painful rash?

Yes, shingles cause an often one-sided, red, raised rash. The area affected is extremely tender to the touch and continuous. It does not cross the middle of the body. It can be treated with pain remedies as the body brings the disease back under control through the action of the immune system. Sometimes the pain precedes the rash making the diagnosis more difficult at times.

Why is my painful rash itchy?

Itching may occur for many reasons depending on the rash. Some rashes itch because of an allergic reaction to a substance. For example, a poison ivy rash often burns and itches. Others may itch as the infection subsides and the rash begins to heal, for example, the final stages of a chicken pox rash.

Why do I get a painful rash after exercise?

You may be wearing clothes that are too tight and do not allow your sweat to evaporate. This can cause a "heat rash" along areas with tight fitting clothing. In other cases, hives or a rash following exercise are from cholinergic urticaria, which occurs after raising the body temperature. Exercise induced anaphylaxis, which is triggered only by exercise, causes slightly larger hives.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Painful Rash

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Are there bumps on your rash?
  • What color is the skin change?
  • Is your rash raised or rough when you run your hand over the area of skin?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Painful Rash Symptom Checker

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Painful Rash Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced painful rash have also experienced:

  • 13% Red Rash
  • 11% Warm And Red Rash
  • 4% Leg Skin Changes

People who have experienced painful rash were most often matched with:

  • 53% Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis
  • 30% Skin Abscess
  • 15% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

People who have experienced painful rash had symptoms persist for:

  • 29% Over a month
  • 27% Less than a week
  • 25% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

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