Rashes and lymph nodes

A rash is an inflammatory response that causes changes to your skin, such as redness, itching, blistering, or scaly or raised skin patches. Rashes can be the result of a variety of things.

Lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system. They filter fluids in your body and return them to your circulation system for disposal. They also house infection-fighting cells. You can’t typically feel your lymph nodes when you’re healthy, but they can become swollen and tender when your body is having an immune response.

Swollen lymph nodes usually feel soft and round, like a pea or bean beneath your skin. In some cases, they can feel hard.

It’s possible to develop a rash and swollen lymph nodes together. Learn about potential causes of these symptoms.

Several different conditions can cause rash and swollen lymph nodes. Here are 15 possible causes.

Warning: Graphic images ahead.

Viral pharyngitis

  • This inflammation of the pharynx, which is in the back of the throat, results in soreness and irritation.
  • It may be caused by throat infection with viruses, bacteria, or fungi, or be due to noninfectious agents such as allergies, smoke inhalation, dry air, or acid reflux.
  • The most common symptoms are sore, dry, and scratchy throat.
  • Depending on the cause of irritation, sore throat may be accompanied by symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, cough, headache, fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, body aches, or chills.

Read full article on viral pharyngitis.

Infectious mononucleosis

  • Infectious mononucleosis is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
  • It mainly occurs in high school and college students.
  • Symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, headache, fatigue, night sweats, and body aches.
  • Symptoms may last for up to 2 months.

Read full article on infectious mononucleosis.

Fifth disease

  • Fifth disease causes headache, fatigue, low fever, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, and nausea.
  • Children are more likely than adults to experience a rash.
  • Round, bright red rash on the cheeks.
  • Lacy-patterned rash on the arms, legs, and upper body that might be more visible after a hot shower or bath.

Read full article on Fifth disease.


  • This is a viral or bacterial infection of the tonsil lymph nodes.
  • Symptoms include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, chills, headache, bad breath.
  • Swollen, tender tonsils and white or yellow spots on tonsils may also occur.

Read full article on tonsillitis.


  • Chickenpox causes clusters of itchy, red, fluid-filled blisters in various stages of healing all over the body.
  • Rash is accompanied by fever, body aches, sore throat, and loss of appetite.
  • Remains contagious until all blisters have crusted over.

Read full article on chickenpox.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

  • SLE is an autoimmune disease that displays a wide variety of symptoms affecting many different body systems and organs.
  • A wide array of skin and mucous membrane symptoms that range from rashes to ulcers.
  • Classic butterfly-shaped face rash that crosses from cheek to cheek over the nose.
  • Rashes may appear or get worse with sun exposure.

Read full article on SLE.


  • This term is used to describe multiple types of blood cancer that occur when white blood cells in the bone marrow grow out of control.
  • Leukemias are classified by onset (chronic or acute) and cell types involved (myeloid cells and lymphocytes).
  • Common symptoms include excessive sweating, especially at night, fatigue and weakness that don’t go away with rest, unintentional weight loss, bone pain, and tenderness.
  • Painless, swollen lymph nodes (especially in the neck and armpits), enlargement of the liver or spleen, red spots on the skin (petechiae), bleeding easily and bruising easily, fever or chills, and frequent infections are also possible symptoms.

Read full article on leukemia.


  • Shingles is a very painful rash that may burn, tingle, or itch, even if there are no blisters present.
  • Rash comprising clusters of fluid-filled blisters that break easily and weep fluid.
  • Rash emerges in a linear stripe pattern that appears most commonly on the torso, but may occur on other parts of the body, including the face.
  • Rash may be accompanied by low fever, chills, headache, or fatigue.

Read full article on shingles.


This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

  • Cellulitis is caused by bacteria or fungi entering through a crack or cut in the skin.
  • It features red, painful, swollen skin with or without oozing that spreads quickly.
  • Affected skin can be hot and tender to the touch.
  • Fever, chills, and red streaking from the rash might be a sign of serious infection requiring medical attention.

Read full article on cellulitis.

HIV infection

  • HIV infection refers to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, which attacks and destroys immune cells, leaving the immune system unable to fight off other diseases and infections.
  • It’s contagious and can be spread a number of ways: by sharing syringes or needles with someone living with HIV; through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or anal secretions containing HIV; and through pregnancy or breastfeeding if the mother has HIV.
  • Acute HIV infection occurs most often two to four weeks after initial exposure to the virus.
  • Symptoms of acute infection are similar to those of the flu, including fever, chills, headaches, body aches, fatigue, rash, and swollen lymph nodes.

Read full article on HIV infection.


  • Symptoms include fever, sore throat, red, watery eyes, loss of appetite, cough, and runny nose.
  • Red rash spreads from the face down the body three to five days after first symptoms appear.
  • Tiny red spots with blue-white centers appear inside the mouth.

Read full article on measles.


  • This viral infection is also known as German measles.
  • A pink or red rash begins on the face and then spreads downward to the rest of the body.
  • Mild fever, swollen and tender lymph nodes, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle pain, inflamed or red eyes are some symptoms.
  • Rubella is a serious condition in pregnant women, as it may cause congenital rubella syndrome in the fetus.
  • It’s prevented by receiving normal childhood vaccinations.

Read full article on rubella.

Scarlet fever

  • Occurs at the same time as or right after a strep throat infection.
  • Red skin rash spreads all over the body (but not the hands and feet).
  • The rash is made up of tiny bumps that make it feel like “sandpaper”.
  • The tongue is bright red.

Read full article on scarlet fever.

Lyme disease

  • Lyme disease is caused by infection with the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi.
  • The bacteria is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged deer tick.
  • Lyme’s wide range of symptoms mimic those of many other ailments, making it difficult to diagnose.
    Its signature rash is a flat, red, bull’s-eye rash with a central spot surrounded by a clear circle with a wide red circle on the outside.
  • Lyme disease features cyclical, waxing and waning flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills, body aches, headaches, joint pain, and night sweats.

Read full article on Lyme disease.

West Nile virus

  • This virus is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos.
  • Infection causes a wide range of symptoms from mild, flu-like illness to meningitis and encephalitis.
  • Fever, headache, body aches, back pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and rash on the back, chest, and arms are other possible symptoms.
  • Severe symptoms include confusion, numbness, paralysis, severe headache, tremors, and problems with balance.

Read full article on West Nile virus.

A rash and swollen lymph nodes are signs of an infection or immune response. If you have a minor infection, your symptoms will likely resolve on their own with time and rest. If your rash and swollen lymph nodes are caused by a serious infection, you may need medical treatment.

Enlargement of the lymph nodes, or lymphadenopathy, can also be due to cancers such as head and neck malignancies and lymphoma. However, a rash may not be concurrently present.

Certain medications can cause a syndrome called serum sickness that manifests as fever, joint pain, rash, and lymphadenopathy. Those medications include penicillin, allopurinol (Zyloprim, Lopurin), and hydralazine.

Some potential infectious and autoimmune causes of rash and swollen lymph nodes include:

  • fifth disease, a viral illness marked by a red rash on your face and other parts of your body
  • viral pharyngitis, an infection of the pharynx, often referred to simply as “sore throat”
  • infectious mononucleosis, a group of symptoms caused by the Epstein-Barr virus through saliva, which is why some refer to it as “the kissing disease”
  • tonsillitis, or infection of the tonsils, which can occur at any age but is most often found in children from preschool age to mid-teens
  • measles, a viral infection that causes large, flat blotches to develop on your skin
  • rubella, also known as “German measles,” a viral infection characterized by a rash that begins on your face and spreads down your body
  • scarlet fever, a reaction to a strep throat infection that causes a rash to develop on your neck and chest
  • chickenpox, an infection caused by a highly contagious virus that results in a blister-like rash
  • systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic condition that can cause a butterfly-like rash to develop over your cheeks and the bridge of your nose
  • shingles, a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox
  • Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks that leave a solid oval or “bull’s eye” rash
  • West Nile virus, a serious viral infection spread by mosquitos
  • acute HIV infection, the initial stage of HIV, which isn’t always detectable by standard HIV antibody tests
  • leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells
  • skin infections, such as cellulitis

Seek medical attention immediately 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:

  • you experience fever or joint pain along with your rash and swollen lymph nodes
  • your lymph nodes feel hard and rock-like
  • you experience swelling on or near your 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.

To treat your rash and swollen lymph nodes, your doctor will try to diagnose and address the underlying cause of your symptoms. They will likely start by evaluating your symptoms and medical history. They’ll ask you several questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Does anything cause your symptoms to get worse or better?
  • Have you recently been exposed to anyone who is sick?

Rash and swollen lymph nodes tend to stem from viral infections. Antibiotics are ineffective for treating this type of infection. But your doctor may recommend other medications to help relieve your symptoms. For example, they may encourage you to apply an anti-itch cream or take an antihistamine to reduce the itchiness or pain caused by your rash.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan. In many cases, rest is the best healer for viral infections that cause rash and swollen lymph nodes. You can also take steps at home to achieve greater comfort.

Keep the rash-covered portions of your skin clean and dry to help reduce irritation. Wash your skin with mild, unscented soap and warm water. Gently pat it dry. Avoid rubbing or scratching your rash, which can irritate it more.

Rest and avoid overexertion to give your body the chance to heal. Drink cool, clear fluids to maintain hydration. Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil), can also help relieve pain associated with your illness.

Washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap helps prevent infections. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help kill infection-causing germs when soap and water aren’t available. You should also keep your vaccinations up to date.