Common Symptoms

There is a range of common symptoms that are a feature of many different skin conditions, ranging from mild to severe. This section will outline some of these common symptoms and what to do about them. As these symptoms are common to many conditions we cannot suggest potential diagnoses. It is reasonable to see a doctor about any persistent issue, lasting longer than two weeks, particularly if it is having an impact on your day-to-day life.



Blistering

Blisters are fluid filled bubbles on the skin. They are painful, but not usually serious. You should avoid popping them and go to see your doctor if there is any sign of infection.

You should also see your GP if multiple blisters appear for no known reason, or if extensive blistering is caused by burning, scalding, allergy or sunburn. Particularly painful or persistent blisters are also a good reason to see a doctor.

Pharmacists can advise on blister care and prevention.

Bumps and lumps

Bumps and lumps are usually harmless, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between something mild such as a boil or a cyst and something more serious.

For that reason, if a lump persists for two weeks or more then you should go to see your doctor. If a lump or bump is impacting on your day-to-day life, such as sleeping and working, then that is another reason to see a doctor.

Do not attempt to burst any lumps or bumps as this will increase the risk of infection and scarring. If a lump becomes infected then you should seek medical attention.

Your local pharmacy may also be able to provide advice on bumps and lumps and how to encourage them to heal.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is one of the most common skin issues. For many people it is not a sign of any skin condition, it just means that they need to moisturise their skin more regularly. This is particularly true in winter, as the harsh weather and central heating can dry your skin out.

However, widespread dry, cracked, itchy skin which persists beyond two weeks should be seen by your GP.

Pharmacists can give advice on moisturisers. Remember though that just because a cream is more expensive doesn’t mean that it is better than cheaper ones!

Hyperpigmentation, Hypopigmentation & Depigmentation

Skin discolouration occurs due a difference in the level of melanin in that part of the skin. Melanin is the pigment which gives our skin colour. Discolouration can mean that there is more melanin, known as hyperpigmentation, in which case the area will be darker than the surrounding skin. On the other hand, there may be less melanin, or even no melanin, in which case the area will be lighter, which is known as hypopigmentation. If there is no pigment, this is called depigmentation.

There are many causes for changes in pigmentation in the skin. Sometimes it can be due to an area of inflammation or rash that has resolved, in which case the colour change will gradually settle on its own. However, if there are areas of persistent, increasing or widespread colour change, it would be reasonable to visit your doctor.

Sunscreen is important to protect areas of skin where hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation or depigmentation has occurred. Melanin is what protects us against the sun’s rays, patches with no melanin are particularly susceptible to sun damage, so this is particularly important for people with depigmentation. However, sunscreen is also useful for people with hyperpigmentation as it will prevent the darker patches from darkening further and standing out more.

Inflammation

Skin inflammation is a very common symptom. Inflamed skin will usually be red, may be warm and swollen, and often painful or itchy.

Inflammation occurs during healing because of increased blood flow to the site of the injury. If inflammation lasts more than a week or two, or is widespread, then you should see a doctor.

If you think the inflammation is cause by infection, or if there is pus, then you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Itch

Persistent itch is a particularly aggravating symptom. Loose, soft clothing, regular moisturisation, and cool compresses can all help alleviate the problem. However, if it persists for more than two weeks then you should see your GP.

You may wish to see your GP sooner if it accompanies a rash or lump that you are particularly concerned about, or if it is a whole-body itch that won’t go away.

New or Unusual Moles

Most moles are harmless, and new moles aren’t uncommon, particularly in your first 20 years. However, it’s important to get a mole checked out, either new or old, if it is changing. Moles can also fade over time or darken during pregnancy.

Important changes to look out for may include:

Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole may differ in their shape and not match

Border: The outside edges of the mole or area may be blurred, and sometimes show notches or look ‘ragged’

Colour: This may be uneven and patchy. You may see different shades of black, brown and pink

Diameter: Most, but not all, melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. If you notice any mole getting bigger or changing, tell your doctor.

If you want to monitor your moles for change then it is often useful to photograph them next to a ruler or a coin for scale.

Tell your doctor about changes to your moles even if they are not the ones outlined above.

Open Sores

Any unexplained open wounds or sores should be seen by a doctor immediately.

Rashes

Rashes can be due a very large number of potential causes, ranging from inflammation of the skin, to infections and drug reactions. Here are a few important examples:

Cellulitis: A warm, red, potentially swollen and tender area of skin, associated with feeling unwell and fever. This is an infection of the skin that will likely require prompt treatment with antibiotics.

Meningitis: The rash is often blotchy, and doesn’t fade with pressure when a glass is rolled over the rash. This is due to an infection that may be due to a variety of organisms, and can make affected individuals very unwell. The young, elderly and immunosuppressed are most at risk. However, the rash itself can be seen in other conditions also, and requires urgent medical attention.

Steven-Johnson syndrome: this is a rare condition provoked often by mild infections in children, or medications in adults. The rash consists of “bullseye” target like spots with a purple or dark pink ring, with a lighter ring around it, and subsequently may form blisters in the centre that may break down. It is not usually itchy, but can be painful. Mucous membranes are often affected – these are the softer surfaces of the eyes, mouth and lips, throat and possibly genital skin. Individuals often have a temperature and may feel unwell. It is important to see a doctor urgently if this rash is seen.

Scaly Skin

What some people consider scaly skin can sometimes just be dry skin. However, if you have persistent patches of scaly, itchy skin, then you should see your doctor, particularly if it is impacting your day-to-day life.

Spots

Spots are very common, and your doctor may not necessarily have to be your first port of call. The first thing to do is talk to your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments. If after 12 weeks these haven’t worked then you may need to speak to your GP. However, if severe and painful, it would be reasonable to see your GP first.

If your spots are accompanied by general and persistent facial redness and inflammation then you should see your GP, particularly if you are between the ages of 40 and 60.

Warts

Warts are generally harmless, and most people will have them at some point in their life. A pharmacist should be able to advise you on treatments.

If a wart is particularly large, painful, or bleeding, or if it is on your face or your genitals, then you should see a doctor. If you feel that a wart problem is impacting on your day-to-day life then you should speak to a pharmacist or a doctor for advice.

Blisters are fluid filled bubbles on the skin. They are painful, but not usually serious. You should avoid popping them and go to see your doctor if there is any sign of infection.

You should also see your GP if multiple blisters appear for no known reason, or if extensive blistering is caused by burning, scalding, allergy or sunburn. Particularly painful or persistent blisters are also a good reason to see a doctor.

Pharmacists can advise on blister care and prevention.

Bumps and lumps are usually harmless, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between something mild such as a boil or a cyst and something more serious.

For that reason, if a lump persists for two weeks or more then you should go to see your doctor. If a lump or bump is impacting on your day-to-day life, such as sleeping and working, then that is another reason to see a doctor.

Do not attempt to burst any lumps or bumps as this will increase the risk of infection and scarring. If a lump becomes infected then you should seek medical attention.

Your local pharmacy may also be able to provide advice on bumps and lumps and how to encourage them to heal.

Dry skin is one of the most common skin issues. For many people it is not a sign of any skin condition, it just means that they need to moisturise their skin more regularly. This is particularly true in winter, as the harsh weather and central heating can dry your skin out.

However, widespread dry, cracked, itchy skin which persists beyond two weeks should be seen by your GP.

Pharmacists can give advice on moisturisers. Remember though that just because a cream is more expensive doesn’t mean that it is better than cheaper ones!

Skin discolouration occurs due a difference in the level of melanin in that part of the skin. Melanin is the pigment which gives our skin colour. Discolouration can mean that there is more melanin, known as hyperpigmentation, in which case the area will be darker than the surrounding skin. On the other hand, there may be less melanin, or even no melanin, in which case the area will be lighter, which is known as hypopigmentation. If there is no pigment, this is called depigmentation.

There are many causes for changes in pigmentation in the skin. Sometimes it can be due to an area of inflammation or rash that has resolved, in which case the colour change will gradually settle on its own. However, if there are areas of persistent, increasing or widespread colour change, it would be reasonable to visit your doctor.

Sunscreen is important to protect areas of skin where hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation or depigmentation has occurred. Melanin is what protects us against the sun’s rays, patches with no melanin are particularly susceptible to sun damage, so this is particularly important for people with depigmentation. However, sunscreen is also useful for people with hyperpigmentation as it will prevent the darker patches from darkening further and standing out more.

Skin inflammation is a very common symptom. Inflamed skin will usually be red, may be warm and swollen, and often painful or itchy.

Inflammation occurs during healing because of increased blood flow to the site of the injury. If inflammation lasts more than a week or two, or is widespread, then you should see a doctor.

If you think the inflammation is cause by infection, or if there is pus, then you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Persistent itch is a particularly aggravating symptom. Loose, soft clothing, regular moisturisation, and cool compresses can all help alleviate the problem. However, if it persists for more than two weeks then you should see your GP.

You may wish to see your GP sooner if it accompanies a rash or lump that you are particularly concerned about, or if it is a whole-body itch that won’t go away.

Most moles are harmless, and new moles aren’t uncommon, particularly in your first 20 years. However, it’s important to get a mole checked out, either new or old, if it is changing. Moles can also fade over time or darken during pregnancy.

Important changes to look out for may include:

Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole may differ in their shape and not match

Border: The outside edges of the mole or area may be blurred, and sometimes show notches or look ‘ragged’

Colour: This may be uneven and patchy. You may see different shades of black, brown and pink

Diameter: Most, but not all, melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. If you notice any mole getting bigger or changing, tell your doctor.

If you want to monitor your moles for change then it is often useful to photograph them next to a ruler or a coin for scale.

Tell your doctor about changes to your moles even if they are not the ones outlined above.

Any unexplained open wounds or sores should be seen by a doctor immediately.

Rashes can be due a very large number of potential causes, ranging from inflammation of the skin, to infections and drug reactions. Here are a few important examples:

Cellulitis: A warm, red, potentially swollen and tender area of skin, associated with feeling unwell and fever. This is an infection of the skin that will likely require prompt treatment with antibiotics.

Meningitis: The rash is often blotchy, and doesn’t fade with pressure when a glass is rolled over the rash. This is due to an infection that may be due to a variety of organisms, and can make affected individuals very unwell. The young, elderly and immunosuppressed are most at risk. However, the rash itself can be seen in other conditions also, and requires urgent medical attention.

Steven-Johnson syndrome: this is a rare condition provoked often by mild infections in children, or medications in adults. The rash consists of “bullseye” target like spots with a purple or dark pink ring, with a lighter ring around it, and subsequently may form blisters in the centre that may break down. It is not usually itchy, but can be painful. Mucous membranes are often affected – these are the softer surfaces of the eyes, mouth and lips, throat and possibly genital skin. Individuals often have a temperature and may feel unwell. It is important to see a doctor urgently if this rash is seen.

What some people consider scaly skin can sometimes just be dry skin. However, if you have persistent patches of scaly, itchy skin, then you should see your doctor, particularly if it is impacting your day-to-day life.

Spots are very common, and your doctor may not necessarily have to be your first port of call. The first thing to do is talk to your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments. If after 12 weeks these haven’t worked then you may need to speak to your GP. However, if severe and painful, it would be reasonable to see your GP first.

If your spots are accompanied by general and persistent facial redness and inflammation then you should see your GP, particularly if you are between the ages of 40 and 60.

Warts are generally harmless, and most people will have them at some point in their life. A pharmacist should be able to advise you on treatments.

If a wart is particularly large, painful, or bleeding, or if it is on your face or your genitals, then you should see a doctor. If you feel that a wart problem is impacting on your day-to-day life then you should speak to a pharmacist or a doctor for advice.