What is skin inflammation?
Your immune system is important for maintaining your overall health. It works to detect and neutralize foreign invaders, such as infectious microbes and even cancer cells. When this happens, inflammation can occur.
Like any other part of your body, your skin can be involved in immune responses. Inflammation in the skin often causes a rash to form. It’s typically a response from your immune system to conditions such as:
- internal disease or condition
- allergic reaction
You may be familiar with some of the common causes of skin inflammation, which can include:
- various skin infections
Read on to learn more about the diverse causes of skin inflammation and how they can be treated.
What are the symptoms of skin inflammation?
Some of the symptoms of skin inflammation can include:
- rash which may vary depending on the cause of the inflammation:
- may be smooth or scaly
- may itch, burn, or sting
- may be flat or raised
- skin redness
- warmth in the affected area
- blisters or pimples
- raw or cracked areas of skin that may bleed
- thickening of skin in the affected area
What causes skin inflammation?
Inflammation occurs when your immune system responds to a stimulus or trigger. There are many different types of cells in the immune system that are involved in inflammation.
These cells release a variety of substances that can widen blood vessels and make them more permeable. This allows the immune response to reach the affected area more easily. It also leads to many of the symptoms associated with inflammation, including redness, heat, and swelling.
Some of the potential causes of skin inflammation are:
Immune system dysfunction
Sometimes your immune system may not work properly and may direct an immune response to normal, healthy tissues, such as with psoriasis.
When your immune system sees something as foreign and overreacts, it can cause an allergic reaction, which in some cases can cause skin inflammation.
You can get an allergic rash from medications or eating certain foods.
Additionally, contact dermatitis can occur if you come into direct contact with an irritant or allergen, such as:
- poison ivy
- certain perfumes
- some cosmetic products
Bacterial, viral, or fungal infection
Some examples of infections that may cause skin inflammation include:
This is an immune reaction to sunlight. Some medical conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
A skin reaction to heat may cause heat rash. This occurs when sweat gets trapped within your pores, causing irritation and a rash.
Skin inflammation such as eczema may be caused by various factors, including:
- immune dysfunction
- bacteria on the skin
How is skin inflammation diagnosed?
In order to diagnose the cause of your skin inflammation, your doctor will first perform a physical exam and take your medical history. Many cases of skin inflammation caused by an infection can be diagnosed by an examination of the rash.
While taking your history, your doctor may also ask if you noticed the inflammation following eating a particular food, taking a certain medication, or coming into direct contact with a particular thing.
In a skin test, a small drop of the potential allergen is pricked or injected into your skin — typically on the back or forearm. If you’re allergic, redness and swelling will occur at the site. Results of a skin test can be seen in as early as 20 minutes, although it may take up to 48 hours for a reaction to appear.
In a blood test, a sample of blood is taken from a vein in your arm. It’s then sent to a lab where it’s tested to see if antibodies to specific allergens are present. Since the sample is sent to a lab, it can take several days to receive results.
In some cases, your doctor may want to take a skin biopsy to help diagnose your condition. This involves taking a small example of skin and examining it under a microscope.
How you can treat skin inflammation
If your condition was caused by an allergy, you’ll need to avoid the trigger for your skin inflammation.
There are many different treatments available for the treatment of skin inflammation. The type of treatment will depend on the cause of your inflammation. Your doctor will work with you to determine the treatment that will work best for your condition.
Topical treatments are applied directly to your skin and can include:
- corticosteroid creams, which can help reduce inflammation
- immunomodulators, such as calcineurin inhibitors, which act on the immune system directly in order to reduce skin inflammation
- antibacterial or antifungal creams for some skin inflammation caused by infections
- over-the-counter anti-itch creams, such as hydrocortisone or calamine lotion
Oral medications are taken by mouth to help control your inflammation and can include:
- antihistamines to treat allergies
- dapsone can help relieve redness and itching associated with hives or dermatitis herpetiformis
- prescription oral antibiotics or antifungals for skin inflammation caused by a bacterial or fungal infection
- oral or injectable prescription medications for psoriasis, such as retinoids, methotrexate, and biologics
There are also various things that you can do at home to relieve your skin inflammation, including:
- using cool, wet compresses or wraps to help ease irritated skin
- applying ointments or creams to avoid irritated and cracked dry skin
- taking a warm oatmeal bath, made of components that’re anti-inflammatory and can act as a shield against irritants
- taking vitamin D supplements, which may help with skin inflammation that’s associated with eczema
- using tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial components that may be effective in treating seborrheic dermatitis
- wearing clothing that has a smooth, soft texture
- managing stress
- using phototherapy, which involves exposing the inflamed area to either natural or artificial light
When to call your doctor
You should always visit your doctor if your rash:
- appears all over your body
- occurs suddenly and spreads rapidly
- is accompanied by a fever
- starts to form blisters
- is painful
- appears infected, which can include symptoms like oozing pus, swelling, and a red streak coming from the rash
Some allergic reactions can develop into anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening condition and you should seek immediate emergency medical attention.
Go to the ER if you have any of these symptoms:
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- abdominal pain
- nausea or vomiting
- dizziness or fainting
- feeling of doom
The bottom line
Skin inflammation can occur due to an immune response. This can be due to a variety of factors, including immune system dysfunction, an allergic reaction, or an infection.
The most common symptom is a rash, but other symptoms such as redness, heat, or blistering can occur. A variety of topical and oral medications are available for treatment once the cause of your skin inflammation has been diagnosed.