Skin rashes are a common chief complaint in many ERs, urgent cares, and primary care clinics. Luckily, due to the advent of vaccines, many diseases that cause rashes, such as measles and rubeola, are almost never seen anymore. In the elderly population, it is also less likely to see the “sandpaper” pink rash that can occasionally follow a strep throat infection – young people are more likely to suffer from this bacterial illness. However, there are still many skin rashes that people of all ages are vulnerable to, so this writing will attempt to describe their signs and symptoms as best as possible.
A large problem in the elderly population is polypharmacy – being on many different prescription or over-the-counter drugs that can interact with each other and cause side effects. Sometimes, if the body does not react well to a certain drug, it can break out in a rash usually simply referred to as “drug rash”. This rash will begin as pink or purple spots, that then spread all over the body and merge together. Stopping the drug will usually get rid of the rash.
Contact dermatitis is another very common rash. This can produce a dry, scaly area caused through exposure to a substance that the skin is allergic to. Often this can be a scented soap or bath product; it is important to do a brief test of a new product on a small area of your skin to know how you will react to it before using it in your laundry or over a large area of your body.
Allergic contact dermatitis tends to cause swelling, itchy bumps, and sometimes blisters. This particular type of contact dermatitis comes from contact with an irritating substance such as poison ivy. Note that you will not be able to test this allergen beforehand because it will require an initial exposure for the body to develop an allergy and subsequent reaction to it.
This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.
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April 8, 2023