Many people have an annual doctor appointment to get a checkup. You probably have a good handle on when to make an impromptu visit to your primary care physician when you don’t feel well. But if the issue is on your outside, you may find it tough to distinguish a rash from an infection or an itch from something more serious.

Dermatologists play an important role in health care. Knowing when to see these skin, hair, and nail doctors can save your life.

Dry, Itchy Skin or a Concerning Rash That Won’t Go Away

Do you have an itch that just won’t go away? Has it been days of nothing helping? Not only are they annoying, but persistent itches can also be a legitimate hindrance to your life. They can have several causes, like dry skin or a reaction to medicine. If your itch is lasting more than two weeks, it’s time to see a dermatologist.

If a rash develops and doesn’t go away on its own after two weeks, you should also schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a diagnosis. While a rash or a patch of dry skin can be harmless and take one or two months to go away without treatment, knowing why it’s there can help you get rid of it.

This is especially true if your ailment lingers, since it could be a sign of a more serious issue. Get on the phone right away if you spot any of the following signs:

  • A rash that covers your entire body — This can be a sign of an allergic reaction or an infection.
  • A fever develops along with the rash — According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if you develop a fever with a rash, go to the emergency room immediately. This is a serious sign of either an infection or allergic reaction.
  • The rash forms blisters or open sores — This tends to be a sign of an allergic reaction, a bad reaction to a medication or illness, or something going wrong inside your body.
  • The rash becomes painful — A painful rash could have many causes, so visiting a dermatologist is important for diagnosis.
  • The rash becomes infected — Many rashes itch, which causes us to scratch, which can lead to an infection. An infected rash may be painful, swell, crust, or release a yellow or green fluid.

These signs can be symptoms of much more serious conditions. You should speak with a doctor quickly to prevent them from getting worse.

Indications of Infection

There are several types of skin infections, all with different signs and symptoms. A skin infection can be anything from athlete’s foot to leprosy, so there’s quite the range in severity, too. This variability is due to the fact they can be caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Bacteria tends to bring about the most serious skin infections. For example, it can lead to staph infections, impetigo, cellulitis, or the previously mentioned leprosy. Two frequent symptoms of bacterial skin infections are boils and pus or a fluid discharge.

Fungal infections are very common skin conditions. Generally, they will fall into the athlete’s foot family. Yeast infections and ringworm are also fungal skin infections. If your skin is itchy, scaly, or dry, especially between your toes, you probably have a minor fungal infection.

As for viral skin infections, chances are you’ve had at least one at some point in your life. That’s right, if you had chicken pox or shingles, you had a viral skin infection. Measles and herpes are also viral infections, along with many warts.

With the wide range of skin disorders and diseases, getting suspicious symptoms checked out is a smart idea.

Persistent Acne or Cysts No Matter What You Do

Unbearable acne isn’t just for teens! People of any age can get it. While it’s rarely life-threatening, the social stigma of acne can be miserable. For many, over-the-counter treatments are enough, but that’s not always the case. If you’ve tried seemingly everything, a trip to the dermatologist should be in your future. A dermatologist can prescribe a stronger treatment or offer an expert opinion on non-medication options.

Like the blemishes of acne, cysts are lumps in or on the skin filled with fluid, pus, or other material. If you frequently get cysts or want a current one treated (they don’t go away on their own), visiting a dermatologist’s office will be necessary.

An Irregular Mole That Changes Shape or Size

Finally, the big one. While most moles are harmless, some are warning signs of skin cancer. And, as with anything connected to the scary “C-word,” not knowing can be terrifying. So, what makes a mole concerning enough to schedule a visit with the dermatologist?

There are a few key signs that can tell you whether a mole needs a doctor’s opinion. An easy way to remember them is memorizing the ABCDEs of moles:

  • A — Asymmetry: Does one side of the mole look different from the other?
  • B — Border: Does the mole have irregular borders. Are they blurry or poorly defined?
  • C — Color: Is the mole different colors or shades of brown, black, red, white, or blue?
  • D — Diameter: Is the mole larger than a standard pencil eraser?
  • E — Evolving: Is the mole changing in color, size, or shape?

It’s important to note that, even if you have the majority of these signs, you should not diagnose yourself. If your family medical history includes cases of skin cancer or other skin conditions, regular visits to your dermatologist are necessary.

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A good rule of thumb with most medical questions is, if you’re worried about something, see your doctor. With how subtle skin issues can be, this advice goes double for seeing your dermatologist!

Further Reading

Everyday Health — Should You See a Dermatologist
Medicareful Living — Remember to Use Sunscreen This Summer
Skin Cancer Foundation — Step by Step Self-Examination
WebMD — Moles and Skin Cancer Screening