From Bumps to Rashes: How to Diagnose Your Symptoms

Skin Symptoms & Concerns

From Bumps to Rashes: How to Diagnose Your Symptoms

Treatment (RA)

It can be a little concerning to notice a patch of red, bumpy, or itchy skin that you’re pretty sure wasn’t there yesterday. The good news is that you’re not alone—skin issues like these are fairly common.

So how do you know what’s causing your symptoms? While we don’t recommend diagnosing yourself without a doctor’s help, knowing the potential causes (and treatments) will leave you better prepared to handle your next outbreak.

So with no further ado, the most common symptoms:


  • Acne: Of course, there’s one cause of bumps that we probably don’t need to point out to you: acne. You’ll know you’re dealing with acne when you’re seeing small red, white, or black bumps, usually without a rash or any other symptoms. The best treatment varies from person to person, but usually requires an evidence-based skincare routine.
  • Acute or chronic urticaria: Urticaria is the scientific name for hives, any red bumps or welts that pop up on your skin. Acute urticaria is when your hives persist for up to six weeks—after that point, it’s classified as chronic. The most common causes of acute urticaria are allergic reactions and infections, but experts don’t know the cause of chronic urticaria. Antihistamines and topical corticosteroids can relieve hives, but won’t cure chronic urticaria.
  • Heat rash: If you get overheated and your sweat is trapped on your skin (like when you’re wearing a sweater on a hot day), you might be left with a rash and small red, white, brown, or clear bumps. These bumps usually go away on their own once you cool off.
  • Lichen planus: Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that causes itchy red, purple, or brown bumps, and the skin may stay discolored even after the bumps go away. This condition isn’t caused by a parasite or an allergen—it’s your own immune system affecting your skin. Doctors aren’t sure why lichen planus impacts some people and not others, but it’s often triggered by an infection or certain medications. It usually clears up on its own, but you can hurry things along by taking an antihistamine or using topical corticosteroids.
  • Shingles: If you’ve had chickenpox, you can later develop shingles, which causes a painful rash with clusters of fluid-filled blisters. The pain and itching can persist for months or even years, but antiviral treatment can help control symptoms.
  • Swimmer’s itch: Swimming in water that contains parasites can cause a burning, itchy rash as well as bumps or blisters. This might be a little scary, but it typically clears up after a week or so.

After that, let’s talk about...


  • Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis happens when your skin touches something it’s sensitive to. It often causes itchiness, sometimes along with redness, blisters, or burning. These issues will usually clear up as long as you avoid whatever triggered the reaction. Potential triggers include adhesives, certain metal alloys (like nickel), fabric softeners, latex, nail polish, plants, soaps and detergents, shampoos, and topical medications.
  • Dandruff: If it’s only your scalp that itches (and flakes fall off when you scratch), you may be dealing with seborrheic dermatitis, a.k.a. dandruff. Dandruff is more common than you might think—and simple to get rid of. Ketoconazole shampoo is FDA-approved to treat dandruff and works quickly.

Itchiness is sometimes accompanied by...


  • Allergic reactions: A rash can be a sign of an allergic reaction to a food, plant (like poison ivy), or medication. Often this type of rash clears up once you start avoiding the thing that triggered it, but be sure to get medical help immediately if you experience any trouble breathing—that could be a sign of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.
  • Infections: Certain viral infections, like chickenpox and measles, can cause rashes. You’ll recognize chickenpox by its trademark blisters, which usually spread to cover the entire body. A measles rash will come along with other symptoms like a fever, cough, and sore throat. Antiviral medications can clear these rashes up.
  • Intertrigo: Intertrigo is the scientific name for the rash and soreness caused by skin-to-skin friction. You might notice this type of rash between your thighs, in your underarms, or on your stomach. Intertrigo can be painful, but keeping your skin as dry and clean as possible usually clears it up.
  • Ringworm: Tinea corporis, a.k.a. ringworm, is a fungal infection that causes an itchy, circular rash. The name comes from the ring-like shape, not from an actual worm, although ringworm can appear in different patterns. The most common cause is contact with a person or animal who has it, and the usual treatment is an antifungal cream.
  • Rosacea: Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes facial redness, which can worsen over time. The triggers vary from one person to the next, but some common ones are sunlight, intense heat or cold, certain foods and drinks, and stress. Rosacea can’t be cured, but you can alleviate symptoms with topical or oral medications.

Next common concern? We’re sharing more about...

Scaly skin with raised bumps

  • Pityriasis rosea: Pityriasis rosea is a scaly or bumpy rash that can go away and then return in a tree-shaped pattern across the back or chest. Scientists aren’t sure what causes it, but it usually clears up on its own after a few months.
  • Psoriasis: Psoriasisis a chronic condition that causes thick, scaly skin that can also be itchy or painful. Outbreaks usually happen on the elbows, face, feet, knees, lower back, or scalp. Like rosacea, psoriasis has many triggers, including infections, medications, and stress. There’s no cure for psoriasis, but topical medications can help ease symptoms during outbreaks.

And last but not least, one more key thing for you to know.

A mix of the above

Now let’s talk about one condition that can cause almost all of the issues on this list: atopic dermatitis, a.k.a. eczema. Eczema is a common, chronic skin condition that often affects people with a family history of allergies. The symptoms vary from person to person, but can include dry, red, itchy rashes, and in some cases, fluid-filled bumps.

If you’re experiencing multiple symptoms we mentioned, you may want to consider this as a potential cause, but keep in mind that you could also be dealing with multiple conditions (like eczema in addition to an allergic reaction).

Feel like you have a better idea of what’s going on?

Now that you know more about what might be causing your skin symptoms, you’re better prepared for a conversation with your doctor or dermatologist who can provide you with the right diagnosis.

Take a quick Facet consultation to find the best treatment for your skin concerns.

Article Reviewed By

Dr. Peter Young, MD, Facet Medical Director and Board-Certified Dermatologist

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