What Are Rash and Swollen Lymph Nodes?

A rash is an inflammatory response that causes changes to your skin, such as redness, itching, blistering, and scaly or raised skin patches.

Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system. They filter fluids in your body and return them to the circulation system for disposal, as well as house infection fighting cells. Lymph nodes can become swollen and tender when they’re active in fighting infections.

You typically can’t feel lymph nodes when you’re well, but swollen nodes feel soft and round, like a pea or bean beneath your skin. Some can feel hard.

What Causes a Rash and Swollen Lymph Nodes?

A rash and swollen lymph nodes are signs of an infection or immune response. In instances of minor infections, symptoms will resolve with time and rest. However, a rash and swollen lymph nodes can indicate a more serious infection.

Examples of rash and swollen lymph node causes include:

  • fifth disease: a viral illness marked by a red rash on the face and other parts of the body
  • lupus erythematosus: a chronic condition that often results in a butterfly-like rash to develop over the cheeks and bridge of the nose
  • measles: caused by a virus that produces a skin rash that appears in large, flat blotches
  • rubella: a highly contagious virus, also known as “German measles,” characterized by a rash that begins on the face and spreads down the body
  • scarlet fever: a reaction to strep throat infection that causes a rash on the neck and chest
  • shingles: a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox
  • chicken pox: a highly contagious virus that causes a blister-like rash
  • skin infections: such as cellulitis

When to Seek Medical Help

Seek immediate medical attention if your rash and swollen lymph nodes are accompanied by breathing difficulties, tightness in your throat, or swelling in your face.

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • fever or joint pain accompany the rash and swollen lymph nodes
  • lymph nodes feel hard and rock-like
  • swelling appears on or near the rash
  • your symptoms don’t improve in two days

This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned that you may be experiencing a medical emergency.

How Are Rash and Swollen Lymph Nodes Treated?

Your doctor will evaluate your current symptoms and your medical history when considering how to treat a rash and swollen lymph nodes. They’ll ask you several questions, such:

  • When did these symptoms begin?
  • What causes your symptoms to worsen?
  • What improves your symptoms?
  • Were you recently at risk for exposure?

Rash and swollen lymph nodes tend to stem from viral infections, which antibiotics are ineffective against. However, your doctor may recommend applying an anti-itch cream or taking an anti-histamine to reduce itchiness or pain caused by your rash.

Home Care

Keeping the irritated skin dry and clean can help reduce irritation. Wash with mild, unscented soap and warm water. Gently pat the area dry to reduce risk of irritating the rash.

While time is often the best healer for infections that cause rash and swollen lymph nodes, you can take steps to achieve greater comfort.

For example, drink cool, clear fluids to maintain hydration. Rest and avoid overexertion to give your body the chance to heal. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen to help relieve pain associated with your illness.

How Can I Prevent Rash and Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap helps prevent infection. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help kill infection-causing germs when soap and water aren’t available.