HealthONE - November 20, 2020

When to go to the ER for a rash

In many cases, a rash – or skin irritation – does not require emergency care. Common, non-emergency causes may include:

  • Allergic reactions to soaps
  • Detergents or shampoos
  • Minor allergic reactions to plants (such as poison ivy and poison oak)
  • Reactions to heat or cold
  • Reactions to stress or embarrassment

When rashes occur for these reasons, they generally respond to home care.

However, some rashes can indicate a more serious problem. See below for guidance on when to seek emergency care for a rash.

Symptoms that require emergency care

Seek emergency room (ER) treatment if the rash is accompanied by any of the following:

  • Abnormal bleeding or bruises under the rash
  • Areas of tenderness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Skin peeling away or blisters in the mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Streaks of red
  • Tightness/swelling in the throat

Reactions to medication

If you think your rash may be a reaction to medication, stop taking the medication and call your doctor immediately. Do not continue taking the medication until you’ve seen your doctor.

When a rash doesn't go away

If the rash is recurring or persistent, it may indicate a skin condition (such as eczema or psoriasis) or an ongoing allergic reaction. You may not need to go to the ER, but you should make an appointment with your primary care physician to seek medical treatment.

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