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How Do I Recognize a Skin Rash from an Allergic Reaction?

Alex Tree
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Determining whether a skin rash is simply a rash or an allergic reaction can be difficult, especially because a skin rash sometimes is the allergic reaction. Rashes caused by an allergen are usually localized, however. Hives can also cause confusion because they can look nearly identical to rashes and are often considered a type of skin rash. In addition, rashes on a baby’s diaper area are most often irritation caused by dampness. To be safe, have a health professional diagnose the rash to determine if it is something serious like a fungal infection.

A skin rash from an allergic reaction is often localized to the spot the allergen made contact. For example, if an oil you are allergic to touched your hand, that spot may develop the rash. The rash might be itchy and burn or sting when scratched. Many other things can cause similar reactions, so it is important to rule out poison ivy, infection, and other possibilities before determining that the rash is from an allergy.

Sometimes hives, one of the most common allergic reactions, are confused for rashes. Hives are red welts that itch and sometimes spread all over the body. They can look very similar to rashes, to the point that even some medical professionals confuse them. One difference between hives and skin rashes is that hives do not develop blisters or ooze puss, though only some skin rashes progress this far.

Another common type of rash is called a diaper rash, and its location is a tell-tale sign of it not being a skin rash from an allergic reaction. It can affect both babies and adults who wear diapers on a regular basis. The rash usually appears on the buttocks, genital area or thighs, and can be treated with creams or powders. Keeping the area dry by changing wet diapers more quickly can also help.

In general, rashes that quickly fade and disappear completely are nothing to worry about. Those that cover a large portion of the body or that last for days or weeks should be examined by a healthcare professional. Sometimes, redness and scaliness can be an indicator of a fungal infection. Such infections usually do not go away without the help of over-the-counter or prescription anti-fungal creams, depending on their severity.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
Discussion Comments
By indemnifyme — On Dec 10, 2011

@strawCake - I don't think you necessarily always need to see a doctor for a skin issue. For example, I've had eczema before, and I don't need to see a doctor to know when I have it!

I think it's pretty easy to figure out if you're having a skin rash from an allergic reaction too. If you're itchy and puffy, you probably have an allergy. Most people can put two and two together. For instance, if you get a rash right after you switch laundry detergent brands, it's probably an allergy!

By strawCake — On Dec 09, 2011

@ceilingcat - I've had hives before too and they were really, really unpleasant. I had a bad allergic reaction to something and I broke out in hives all over my body. It was awful and it took weeks to go away.

That being said, I think the article is right-it's safest to just have a doctor diagnose a skin problem. Allergic skin rashes and fungal infections need vastly different treatments! An anti-fungal cream isn't going to help an allergic reaction one bit, just like an anti-histamine isn't going to do anything for a fungal infection!

By ceilingcat — On Dec 08, 2011

I've had a log of weird skin problems in the past, so I'm practically an expert on this topic! I've had hives from allergies as well as skin rashes from fungal infections. The article is right-they are quite different!

I think the easiest way to differentiate between an allergic reaction and some other kind of rash is the itchiness. Hives from allergies are itchy and they can get very puffy. They also usually get a lot worse if you scratch them.

On the other hand, rashes from fungal infections don't really itch. They're usually painful and kind of flaky (at least in my experience.)

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and The Health Board contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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