What to look out for
Many things can cause a rash. If the rash appeared within the last two weeks, it could mean you have an infection of some kind or it could simply mean your skin has come into contact with something which caused a reaction.
If you have a rash but feel well, it is probably an allergic reaction. The most common type of allergic reaction is called urticaria, or hives.
Many things can trigger hives, including certain foods, latex (for example, the rubber found in rubber gloves), nettles, medicines, insect bites and stings, even exercise or heat. However, in around half of all cases, no cause can be found.
If you feel ill along with the rash, it is more likely that you have an infection. Common viral infections with a rash include chicken pox, shingles, measles, rubella, hand-foot-mouth disease, glandular fever and scarlet fever. Bacteria can also cause rashes such as impetigo and cellulitis. Click on the links to read more about these conditions.
Meningitis can sometimes cause a rash, but not always.
What can you do
Antibiotics do not help most rashes. In fact, antibiotics often cause allergic reactions.
Hives are generally treated with antihistamine tablets. Ask your pharmacist for advice. You can also take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you have any pain.
If your rash is caused by an allergy, you should avoid whatever is causing the problem. For example, stop eating strawberries if strawberries are causing the rash.
If you are feeling unwell with the rash, it is best to see your doctor to check if one of the infections listed above is causing the problem. Some infections caused by viruses may need treatment. For instance, antiviral medicine can reduce the pain caused by shingles if is taken within 72 hours (3 days) of the rash appearing. You may also need antiviral medicine if you have a condition that affects your immune system such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.
Do not use creams, especially steroid creams, on a rash unless your doctor advises this as steroids often make rashes worse.
When to seek help
If you are worried about the rash or not sure what is causing it, you need to see your doctor.
If you have a severe headache, vomiting, a high temperature, a stiff neck or sensitivity to light along with a rash, you should get medical help immediately as you may have meningitis.