WHAT is a rash? Rash is any change of colour, texture or appearance of the skin. Human skin starts to form about four weeks after conception and during the fifth month of pregnancy the final structures of the skin begin to form.
Human skin is the largest organ of the human body, it is a barrier between the outside world and our inner organs. Skin is coloured by a pigment called melanin, found in cells of the upper layer of the skin. Melanin acts as a natural form of protection from the sunâ€™s rays.
It is believed that human beings developed darker shades of skin colour as a defence mechanism against the sunâ€™s ultraviolet. The more exposure to direct sunlight the skin receives, the darker the skin pigmentation becomes.
Human skin has three layers, namely, from top to bottom; epidermis, dermis and fat layer. The epidermis is the top layer of the skin that is relatively thin and tough, this layer is water proof and when intact acts as a barrier against most bacteria, this layer contains cells that form part of the immune system by detecting foreign substances and defending against infection, these cells also play a role in allergic processes.
The dermis is the layer that contains nerve endings, hair follicles, sebaceous glands and sweat glands. Some parts of the body have more hair follicles than others and that is why different body parts have different amounts of hair. The fat layer helps to keep the body insulated from heat and cold, it acts as storage area for energy and provides a padding which varies in different parts of the body.
Skin rash happens on the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, this usually happens when the skin perceives a threat and/or is irritated by external or internal allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions in the body).
The most common form of rash found is due to allergic reaction to something a person has come into contact with (contact dermatitis) or eaten. Some of the most common causes of contact dermatitis are household cleaning products such as bleach, washing powder, dishwashing liquid and insecticides. Personal hygiene products such as bath soap/ liquid, deodorant, body lotion and make-up are also causes of contact dermatitis, jewellery, buttons, watch and belt buckles are common sources of skin irritation.
Food allergies are known to be produced by several different types of food. In Zambia the most common source of allergic skin reactions to food are pork meat, kapenta, shell fish, eggs and in some cases milk, medicine is also a leading cause of allergic skin reactions.
The best way to avoid skin rashes is to avoid skin irritants. Most adults know what substances (food, chemical and/ or medical) cause rash on their skin. In the case of children, it is usually a case of elimination to determine the cause of irritation, children who play outside are usually affected by contact with plants and insect bites.
Most non-infectious rashes are bumpy, with varying sizes of the bumps and usually appear in close clusters and itchy. Non-infectious rashes are best treated with soothing creams, these usually contain antihistamines and anti-inflammatory substances. In some cases, anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken by mouth to sooth the rash.
Infectious rashes usually do not itch and form pockets of fluid, usually pus. These rashes usually appear a few days after coming into contact with a person who is infected and usually require some form of antibiotic cream to prevent super-infection.
Any skin rash that does not improve after seventy-two hours of over the counter cream or oral medication, requires attention from a health professional.
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