Skin Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are the signs of skin problems?

Skin symptoms include a variety of different skin problems, including rash, itchy skin, dry skin, tingling, temperature changes, blisters, and discoloration. Skin symptoms can be caused by a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. Many skin symptoms are the result of inflammatory or infectious disorders of the skin, but they can also accompany internal diseases, such as thyroid conditions and bleeding disorders. Skin symptoms can affect a small area or the full body and occur in all age groups and populations.

Types of skin symptoms

Some skin symptoms that you may have include:

  • Bleeding or easy bruising

  • Blisters

  • Change in appearance of a mole

  • Discoloration, such as tiny or blotchy red spots, flushing, jaundice, or bruising

  • Dry, scaly, peeling or flaking skin

  • Hair (loss or gain)

  • Itchy or irritated skin

  • Lumps or bumps

  • Numbness

  • Rash or hives (raised skin bump or welt)

  • Sore that does not heal

  • Temperature changes 

  • Texture changes, such as raised, thickened, or thin skin that tears or bruises easily

  • Thickening, plaque formation

  • Tingling or burning pain

Depending on the cause, skin symptoms can begin suddenly and disappear quickly, such as a localized allergic reaction to an ointment. Skin symptoms that persist over a relatively long period of time may be due to more serious or chronic conditions, such as psoriasis, chronic eczema (atopic dermatitis), or poor circulation.

Skin symptoms can be caused by a serious, potentially life-threatening condition, such as an allergic reaction, infection, or cancer. A rash of tiny purple spots on the skin can be due to meningitis or allergic purpura, both of which can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a rash of tiny purple spots, hives or rash accompanied by wheezing, shortness of breath, or swelling of the face, mouth, tongue or throat. If you do not have these symptoms, but your skin condition is persistent or cause for concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with skin symptoms?

Skin symptoms can occur in isolation or with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other symptoms can affect the digestive tract, respiratory system, nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, or immune system. For example, many autoimmune disorders are associated with skin symptoms as well as joint pain, dry or bloodshot eyes, and fatigue.

Other symptoms that may occur with skin symptoms

Skin symptoms may occur with symptoms related to other body systems including:

    Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

    In some cases, skin symptoms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

    • Bluish discoloration of the lips and nails (cyanosis)

    • Change in level of consciousness (fainting), confusion, or alertness

    • Chest pain or chest tightness

    • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath

    • Gray coloring, pallor (extreme paleness), or mottling of skin

    • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

    • Internal bleeding symptoms including blood in vomit, stools or urine

    • Rapid pulse

    • Rash that develops rapidly after taking a new medication

    • Rash that develops rapidly in association with fever or coughing in a child

    • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking

    • Severe headache

    • Stiff neck

    • Sudden dizziness

    • Swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue or throat

    What causes skin symptoms?

    Many different diseases, disorders and conditions cause a variety of skin symptoms, including allergic reactions, infections, autoimmune disorders, and other abnormal processes.

    Infectious causes of skin symptoms include bacterial or fungal infections as well as viral infections, such as roseola. Autoimmune causes of skin symptoms, particularly rashes and dry skin, include systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjogren’s syndrome. Other immune-related disorders include allergic reactions, psoriasis, and rosacea. Skin symptoms can also be due to very serious or life-threatening illnesses, such as melanoma (a type of skin cancer), an anaphylactic allergic reaction, or a bleeding disorder. In some cases, the underlying cause cannot be determined.

    Infectious causes of skin symptoms

    Skin symptoms may be caused by a variety of infectious diseases including:

      Allergic causes of skin symptoms

      Skin symptoms may be caused by an allergic reaction including:

      Autoimmune and inflammatory causes of skin symptoms

      Skin symptoms may be caused by autoimmune and inflammatory disorders including:

      • Bullous pemphigoid

      • Pemphigus vulgaris

      • Discoid lupus

      • Psoriasis (chronic skin disorder involving overproduction of skin cells)

      • Rheumatoid arthritis

      • Rosacea (chronic inflammatory skin disorder)

      • Sjogren’s syndrome (autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands in the body)

      • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

      • Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels)

        Parasites or insects that cause skin symptoms

        Skin symptoms may be caused by parasites or insects including:

        • Bedbugs

        • Fleas and ticks

        • Head lice or pubic lice

        • Mosquitoes (mosquitoes also carry parasitic diseases)

        Other causes of skin symptoms

        Skin symptoms can be caused by other underlying conditions or diseases including:

        • Heat (rash or red skin)

        • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

        • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

        • Nutritional deficiencies

        • Psychogenic skin eruptions

        • Raynaud’s phenomenon (spasms of small blood vessels of the fingers and toes, reducing blood circulation). Raynaud’s phenomenon is secondary to many autoimmune disorders such as lupus.

        • Stress, anxiety or depression

        • Sunburn

        Life-threatening causes of skin symptoms

        In some cases, skin symptoms may accompany a serious or life-threatening condition, including an allergic reaction resulting in anaphylactic shock. Life-threatening conditions include:

        • Acute or severe cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, such as respiratory failure, heart attack, acute asthma, and heart failure

        • Allergic purpura (severe allergic reaction with bleeding under the skin)

        • Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction with hives and swelling of the face, tongue or throat)

        • Bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia or thrombocytopenic purpura

        • Blood circulation problems, such as peripheral artery disease (PAD)

        • Erythema multiforme (type of allergic reaction)

        • Organ disease or failure of major organs, such as the heart, liver or kidney

        • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

        • Septic shock and other forms of shock

        • Skin cancer, such as melanoma or T-cell lymphoma

        • Toxic epidermal necrolysis

        Questions for diagnosing the cause of skin symptoms

        To diagnose the underlying cause of skin symptoms, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions about your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the cause of your skin symptoms:

        • Describe all diseases and conditions in your medical history and list all the medications, supplements, and herbal drugs you are taking. Do you smoke? How much do you drink?

        • Do you have any other symptoms?

        • Have you been in recent contact with any unusual substances or environments, such as being exposed to chemicals or unusual plants, taking new medications or supplements, or traveling to a foreign country?

        • Have you had similar symptoms before?

        • What do the skin changes look like?

        • When did the skin symptoms first appear and in what area of the skin?

        What are the potential complications of skin symptoms?

        Complications associated with skin symptoms can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because skin symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience any type of persistent or recurrent skin symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk of potential complications including:

        • Adverse effects of treatment

        • Bacterial or fungal infection of the skin

        • Chronic pain or discomfort

        • Diminished overall quality of life

        • Embarrassment and low self-esteem

        • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

        • Organ failure or dysfunction

        • Open sores and lesions

        • Permanent change in skin texture and scarring

        • Permanent skin discoloration

        • Physical disability

        • Respiratory arrest from anaphylactic shock

        • Sepsis

        • Skin breakdown from scratching

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        Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
        Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
        View All Skin, Hair and Nails Articles
        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.
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