Chest Rash

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What is chest rash?

Rash is a symptom that causes the affected area of skin to turn red and blotchy, and to swell. A rash may cause spots that are bumpy, scaly, flaky, or filled with pus. Rashes can vary in location, pattern and extent and may occur in any area of the body. A chest rash can have a variety of causes, and it may indicate something occurring around the chest itself or suggest a systemic (body-wide) condition.

Contact dermatitis (skin inflammation) is caused by an adverse reaction to something that touches the skin, including chemicals found in detergent, soap or a fragrance. For example, you may develop a rash on your chest when you wear a shirt that was washed with a particular detergent or treated with a chemical. Metal, such as a necklace rubbing against your chest, can also cause chest rash. Other forms of contact dermatitis include exposure to certain plants, such as poison oak or ivy, an animal bite, or an insect sting. Lyme disease is caused by tick bite, which can first appear as a circle with a bull’s-eye pattern, then progress to a rash.

Allergies to food and medications are potentially serious sources of rash. Peanuts, shellfish, strawberries and avocados are just some of the foods that can trigger allergic reactions. These foods may cause mild reactions; however; in some cases, reactions could develop into potentially life-threatening conditions characterized by vomiting, difficulty breathing, or swelling. Allergic purpura is a serious, often life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause a chest rash but can also affect the joints, gastrointestinal tract, and kidneys.

Rashes may also be associated with in skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and impetigo. Some of these are chronic skin conditions that may flare up for a time, then resolve. Other causes of rash include autoimmune disorders 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 produce rash.

Rashes can be caused by an allergic reaction to food, medications, lotions or detergents. These reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening, especially if swelling and constriction of breathing occurs, which could indicate anaphylaxis. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if a rash is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, including swelling of the face, swelling and constriction of the throat, difficulty breathing, fainting, change in level of consciousness or alertness, pale skin, or purple rash.

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

What other symptoms might occur with chest rash?

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

Related localized symptoms that may occur along with chest rash

Chest rash may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:

  • Itchiness
  • Pus or discharge
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Tenderness or pain

Other symptoms that may occur along with chest rash

Chest rash may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Fever and chills
  • Joint stiffness and pain

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

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

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Purple rash
  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking
  • Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue
  • Tightness or constriction in the throat
  • Worsening of symptoms despite treatment

What causes chest rash?

Chest rash may have many possible causes, including allergens (agents that cause allergies), infections, autoimmune disorders, or other causes such as stress.

Allergic or inflammatory causes of chest rash

Chest rash may be caused by contact dermatitis. Common triggers include:

  • Cosmetics, dyes or detergents
  • Industrial chemicals, such as those found in elastic, latex and rubber
  • Metallic substances such as jewelry
  • Poison ivy or oak

Other allergic causes of chest rash include:

  • Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by allergy)
  • Insect bite allergy such as a bee sting

Infectious causes of chest rash

Chest rash can also be caused by infections including:

  • Eczema (skin disorder causing scaly or blistering rashes that may be caused by infection)
  • Impetigo
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Autoimmune causes of chest rash

Chest rash can also be caused by autoimmune disorders including:

  • Kawasaki disease (rare, serious pediatric disorder characterized by inflammation of blood vessels, high fever, rash, and mucous membrane changes)
  • Psoriasis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Other causes of chest rash

Chest rash can be caused by other factors such as:

  • Extreme cold or heat
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Sunburn

Serious or life-threatening causes of chest rash

In some cases, chest rash may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Allergic purpura
  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Paget’s disease of the breast (type of cancer of the breast particularly affecting the nipple)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of chest rash

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

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

What are the potential complications of chest rash?

Because chest rash may be due to serious diseases, failure to seek 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 miscarriage, hearing loss, and serious brain infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis.

Once the underlying cause of your rash is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent hearing loss
  • Secondary infections, which may develop from scratching and related skin trauma

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 10
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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.
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  2. Rashes. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003220.htm.