You have developed a rash. It’s red, itchy and unsightly. You’re wondering whether to try an over-the-counter cream or get it checked out by your doctor.

A skin rash isn’t an actual diagnosis. It simply refers to inflammation or discolouration of the skin that causes symptoms such as itchiness, redness or swelling. While most rashes disappear after a few days and the irritation can be controlled by antihistamines or creams found at the chemist, some rashes persist and you may need medical attention.

What is the cause of my rash?

A skin rash can by caused by a multitude of factors some of which will be obvious and others will be more difficult to pinpoint. Some of the most common causes of rashes include:

  • Insect bites and stings
  • Body lice and bedbugs
  • Allergies
  • Reactions to grasses or plants such as poison ivy
  • Skin conditions such as eczema, lichen planus, granuloma annulare, and pityriasis rosea
  • Bacterial or viral infections such as chicken pox, tinea, measles and shingles
  • Heat
  • Stress
  • Side effects of pharmaceutical drugs including antibiotics

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Most skin rashes aren’t life-threatening, however there are some symptoms that can signal the rash is serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your GP or go to the emergency room.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it is recommended you see your GP:

  • Your rash is covering your entire body
  • You have a temperature indicating an infection or allergic reaction
  • You’re noticing the rash spreading quickly
  • Your rash is very painful
  • You’ve noticed fluid-filled blisters or open sores
  • You’re seeing signs of infection such as pus, swelling, crusting, warmth or extreme pain
  • Over-the-counter creams or antihistamines have failed to work
  • Your rash is impairing your daily activities
  • You’ve developed a rash during your pregnancy

If your breathing becomes difficult, your throat tightens or your tongue is swelling, it’s a clear sign your skin rash is due to an allergic reaction. If this is the case, you need to go directly to emergency or call 000.

Skin rashes can be caused by a variety of things. While some irritants may be obvious making the rash easy to get rid of, others can be persistent and difficult to treat. Home remedies such as lotions and baths or over-the-counter medication like cortisone creams and antihistamines may help to relieve the symptoms.

However, if your rash is highly irritating or simply doesn’t go away, you should make an appointment with your GP sooner rather than later.

Next steps

HealthEngine can help you find and book an appointment with your regular GP or another experienced professional at a practice near you.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine always recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next GP appointment. Click on the following locations to find a GP clinic in your state or territory.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

All content and media on the HealthEngine Blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call the emergency services immediately.