Everything You Need to Know About Chest Rash

Medically Reviewed By Megan Soliman, MD
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Rashes commonly result from contact dermatitis, some medications, infections, and autoimmune conditions. Other common causes may include extreme weather conditions, acne, and stress. Such rashes can occur on any part of the body, including the chest. Among other things, rashes can develop due to an allergic reaction to foods, medications, lotions, or detergents. These reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening, especially if swelling and breathing difficulties occur, as these symptoms could indicate anaphylaxis

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a rash is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • swelling of the face
  • swelling and constriction of the throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • fainting
  • a change in the level of consciousness or alertness
  • pale skin
  • a purple rash

Learn more about a rash on the chest here, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and when to contact a healthcare professional.

What is a chest rash?

Woman stands outside, holding hand against upper chest and sternum
Alexis Albelo/EyeEm/Getty Images

A rash is a symptom that causes the affected area of skin to become discolored, blotchy, and swollen. It may also cause spots that are bumpy, scaly, flaky, or filled with pus.

Rashes can vary in location, pattern, and extent. A chest rash can have a variety of causes, and it may indicate something occurring around the chest itself or a systemic (body-wide) condition.

Contact dermatitis is due to an adverse reaction to something that touches the skin, including chemicals present in detergents, soaps, and fragrances. For example, you may develop a rash on your chest when you wear a shirt that you washed with a particular detergent or treated with a chemical. Metal objects, such as a necklace rubbing against your chest, can also cause a chest rash.

Other forms of contact dermatitis include exposure to certain plants, such as poison oak or ivy, animal bites, and insect stings. Lyme disease, for example, results from a tick bite, which can first appear as a circle with a bull’s-eye pattern before progressing to a rash.

Allergies to foods and medications are potentially serious causes of a rash. Peanuts, shellfish, strawberries, and avocados are just some of the foods that can trigger allergic reactions. These foods can cause mild reactions, but in some cases, there may be a life threatening reaction characterized by vomiting, difficulty breathing, or swelling.

Allergic purpura, or Henoch-Schönlein purpura, is a serious, often life threatening allergic reaction that can cause a chest rash but that can also affect the joints, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys. It is important to note that the cause of allergic purpura is not fully understood. However, it is currently classified as autoimmune vasculitis.

Rashes may also be associated with certain skin conditions, such as eczemapsoriasis, and impetigo. Some of these are chronic skin conditions that may flare up for a time and then resolve.

Other causes of a rash include autoimmune conditions that occur when the body is attacked by its own immune system, which normally serves to protect it from foreign invaders (antigens). Many viruses that occur during flu season, or those associated with childhood diseases, can also produce a rash.

Seek prompt medical care if a rash is persistent and causing you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with a chest rash?

A chest rash may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition. Certain conditions that cause a chest rash may also involve other bodily systems.

Related localized symptoms that may occur alongside a chest rash

A chest rash may be accompanied by other localized symptoms, including:

  • bruising
  • itchiness
  • pus or discharge
  • redness, warmth, or swelling
  • tenderness or pain

Other symptoms that may occur alongside a chest rash

A chest rash may accompany symptoms related to other bodily systems, including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition

In some cases, a chest rash may be a symptom of a life threatening condition that requires immediate evaluation in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you or someone you are with has a chest rash along with other serious symptoms, including:

  • a change in the level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or becoming unresponsive
  • fever and chills
  • joint pain and stiffness
  • a purple rash
  • respiratory or breathing problems, such as: 
  • sudden swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • tightness or constriction of the throat
  • worsening symptoms despite treatment

What causes a chest rash?

A chest rash has many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune conditions, and stress.

Allergic or inflammatory causes of a chest rash

A rash on the chest may be due to contact dermatitis. Common triggers include:

  • cosmetics, dyes, and detergents
  • industrial chemicals, such as those present in elastic, latex, and rubber
  • metallic items, such as jewelry
  • poison ivy or oak

Other possible allergic causes of a chest rash include:

Infectious causes of a chest rash

A chest rash can also result from several infections, including:

Autoimmune causes of a chest rash

A rash on the chest can also result from several autoimmune conditions, including:

Other causes of a chest rash

A chest rash can also be due to other factors, such as:

  • acne
  • extreme cold or heat
  • mastitis, or infection of the breast
  • medication use
  • stress
  • sunburn

Serious or life threatening causes of a chest rash

In some cases, a chest rash may be a symptom of a serious or life threatening condition that requires immediate evaluation in an emergency setting. These causes include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a chest rash

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to your rash, including:

  • When did the rash begin?
  • Are you breastfeeding?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Does the rash cause any itching or scaling?
  • Do you feel otherwise healthy?
  • Have you recently tried any new products, such as soaps, perfumes, or sprays?
  • Have you spent a lot of time outdoors lately?

What are the potential complications of a chest rash?

Because a chest rash may be due to a serious disease, disorder, or condition, not seeking treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage.

For example, infectious diseases such as mumps or measles can lead to rare but serious complications, including pregnancy loss, hearing loss, and serious brain infections.

Once your doctor has diagnosed the underlying cause of your rash, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you. This will help reduce your risk of experiencing potential complications, including:

What are the treatments and home remedies for a chest rash?

Over-the-counter (OTC) and nonprescription treatments and home remedies are often helpful for addressing rashes and their associated symptoms, including itchiness and pain.

Over-the-counter and nonprescription treatments

Common OTC treatments for rashes and their associated symptoms include:

  • Cortisone creams: These can be helpful in relieving any itchiness associated with your rash.
    • Note: Before using a steroid cream, it is important to first confirm that you do not have an underlying skin infection. Using such a cream with an active skin infection can potentially worsen the infection.
  • Calamine lotion: This has been known to relieve some rashes and alleviate itchiness.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen: If you experience any pain with your rash, pain relievers can be effective remedies.

Home remedies

Home remedies that may be effective in treating rashes and their associated symptoms include:

  • Cold compresses: Cold compresses, cool showers, and damp cloths can provide immediate relief to symptoms and help stop swelling, ease itching, and slow the progression of the rash.
  • Aloe vera: The clear gel that comes from aloe leaves has proven useful for soothing itchy and irritated skin. Aloe vera has properties that make it an effective anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antioxidant agent.
  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is high in saturated fats and has both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Some research has identified coconut oil as a helpful remedy for severe cases of dermatitis and for wound healing.
  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil has been reported to work against viral, fungal, bacterial, and protozoal infections of the skin. Research has identified tea tree oil as a helpful remedy for itchy eyelids.
  • Oatmeal bath: People have long used oats to treat several skin conditions, ranging from eczema to burns. Some studies have identified that the oils in oats work effectively to help repair skin and improve the skin’s barrier.
  • Baking soda: Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a traditional home remedy for itchy skin caused by rashes, poison ivy, and insect bites.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Some research has found apple cider vinegar to be extremely effective in limiting the cytokines that cause inflammation. It also has antimicrobial properties.
  • Epsom salts: Epsom salts have traditionally been used in warm baths to help relieve muscle pains and aches. Magnesium salts can reduce inflammation, improve skin barrier function, and help the skin retain moisture.

When should I contact a doctor for a chest rash?

Although most rashes are treatable with at-home and OTC remedies, it is important to be aware of signs and symptoms that indicate that you should consult your physician. These signs include the following:

  • The rash is all over your body. 
  • You have a fever with the rash. 
  • The rash is sudden and spreads rapidly. 
  • The rash begins to blister
  • The rash is painful. 
  • The rash is infected.

Summary

Rashes are common skin ailments that can occur on any part of the body, including the chest. The causes of a chest rash may be due to allergic, infectious, autoimmune, or environmental triggers. Rashes may be accompanied by other symptoms, including pain, itchiness, and general discomfort.

OTC treatments and various home remedies are often effective in treating rashes. However, if your rash persists, becomes infected, or appears life threatening, it is important to contact a doctor immediately.

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Medical Reviewer: Megan Soliman, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 31
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.