Symptom Definition

  • Rash over most of the body (widespread or generalized)
  • Occasionally just on hands, feet, and buttocks - but symmetrical
  • Small spots, large spots, or solid red
  • Cause of rash is unknown

General Information

  • Three widespread rashes that individuals may be able to recognize are: hives, insect bites, and sunburn. If present, use that topic. If not, use this topic.
  • An adult with fever and rash should seek medical attention immediately. A number of serious infections present in this manner.

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If


Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance) If:

  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • Purple or blood-colored rash with fever
  • Sudden onset of rash (within past 2 hours) and also has difficulty with breathing or swallowing
  • Difficult to awaken or acting confused

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Purple or blood-colored rash without fever
  • Bright red skin that peels off in sheets
  • Bright red, sunburn-like rash after either wound infection, recent surgery, or tampon use
  • Rash looks like large or small blisters (i.e. fluid-filled bubbles or sacs on the skin)
  • Rash beginning within 4 hours of a new prescription medication
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck (unable to touch chin to chest)
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Sores also present in mouth

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

  • A widespread rash, but none of the symptoms described above

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR WIDESPREAD RASHES (pending talking with your doctor)

  1. Reassurance: There are many causes of widespread rashes and most of the time they are not serious. Common causes include viral illness (e.g. cold viruses) and allergic reactions (to a food, medicine, or environmental exposure).
  2. For Non-Itchy Rashes: No treatment is necessary, except for heat rashes, which respond to cool baths.
  3. For Itchy Rashes: Wash the skin once with soap to remove any irritants.  Use Benadryl or take an Aveeno bath to reduce the itching.
  4. Benadryl for Itching: Take an antihistamine (e.g. diphendryamine/Benadryl) for widespread rashes that itch. The adult dosage of Benadryl is 25-50 mg by mouth 4 times daily.
    • Do not take antihistamine medications such as Benadryl if you have prostate enlargement.
    • Antihistamines may cause sleepiness. Do not drink, drive or operate dangerous machinery while taking antihistamines.
    • Read the package instructions thoroughly on all medications that you take.
  5. Oatmeal Aveeno Bath for Itching: Sprinkle contents of one Aveeno packet under running faucet with comfortably warm water. Bathe for 15 - 20 minutes, 1-2 times daily. Pat dry with a towel - do not rub.
  6. Contagiousness: Avoid contact with pregnant women until a diagnosis is made. Most viral rashes are contagious (especially if a fever is present). Your can return to work or school after the rash is gone or when your doctor says it's safe to return with the rash.
  7. Expected Course: Most viral rashes disappear within 48 hours.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP

Reviewed 8/2004

Revised 7/2002

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