Our skin is our largest organ and the interface between us and the world. All of that exposure creates the potential for irritation and discomfort. In some cases, a visible rash will disappear on its own; while in other cases, a rash is an indication of a serious infection working from the inside out. Either way, your skin is trying to tell you something. Here’s my list of rashes that occur most frequently during the summer months and how to prevent and treat them.
Sometimes heat rash comes with no symptoms, other than the rash itself. Other times, heat rashes can be itchy or prickling. This rash is caused by blocked sweat glands. It usually resolves on its own, once the skin cools down.
Heat rash is most common among athletes working out in warm temperatures and occurs in the folds of the skin and where clothing rubs the skin. Babies are also susceptible to heat rash. It appears most often on their neck, shoulders, chest, and in skin folds. To prevent heat rash, wear loose breathable cotton clothing, sleep in cool and well-ventilated areas, work out during cooler times of day, and shower as soon as possible after workouts.
Lakes and oceans sometimes host parasites that cause swimmer’s itch, a summer rash also known as cercarial dermatitis. The parasites usually live in sea birds and ducks and cannot live in humans. They die soon after infecting your skin and don’t cause any other symptoms.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
While coxsackie—also known as hand, foot, and mouth disease—is most common among kids, it can affect adults, as well. And just as the flu thrives in the winter, this virus loves the summer. It all starts with a fever. Then red splotches appear on the hands, feet, and in the mouth. The condition itself is not dangerous and usually resolves in a few weeks. Children with the condition sometimes don’t want to eat or drink, due to mouth pain, which puts them at risk of dehydration. Use acetaminophen as directed to relieve the fever and pain. Good and frequent handwashing is the best prevention.
The oil of many common plants—poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and poison parsnip—all cause a rash made up of tiny very itchy blisters. While the dermatitis resolves on its own within a few weeks, it can be very uncomfortable. Take care to protect your skin while working in the garden or woods. An over the counter steroid cream or calamine lotion can help reduce the itch.
While monkey pox isn’t associated with a specific time of year, it is making an appearance worldwide this summer. The first case in Vermont appeared late last month, and more are certain to arise. Symptoms are flu-like (including fever, fatigue, and aches), swelling of the lymph nodes, and a rash on the face and body. They are mild in most cases, and most people with monkey pox do not require treatment.
Contracting monkey pox requires contact with body fluids of an infected person, either directly or through shared bedding, clothing, or utensils. Close contact may allow monkey pox to spread via respiratory droplets. The best prevention is to avoid contact with those who are infected.
Eyrthema Migrans is the bullseye rash associated with Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria transferred to humans and other animals through the bite of a brown-legged tick. Not all people with Lyme get the rash; but if you have a bullseye rash, you can be almost certain you have Lyme. See your doctor for treatment within a day or two, as advanced Lyme disease can be debilitating. The quicker you get treatment the easier it is to treat. And prevent tick bites, because you can be reinfected.
This is a helpful reminder to listen to your skin. If you see or feel an abnormality, investigate it using these tips and, if necessary, your healthcare provider’s help. Together, you can restore your skin and your sense of comfort and wellbeing.
Nicholas Wild, MD, is a family medicine physician at SVMC Northshire Campus in Manchester, VT. The practice is part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care in Bennington.