A healthy immune system recognizes viruses and bacterial infections that should not be present, attacks them, and flushes them from the body. For some, immune systems mistake healthy cells and tissues for harmful pathogens. This mistake leads to your immune system attacking itself and an autoimmune disorder.
Over 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, the fourth leading cause of disability for women. At least 80 autoimmune diseases exist today, including diabetes, Crohn’s, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Some autoimmune diseases cause specific skin-related rashes and other problems.
Autoimmune Skin Conditions
Skin conditions may be the first sign of an autoimmune disease. They can also be ongoing issues that interfere with how you function personally, professionally, and socially.
Skin is an integral part of the immune system and the largest organ in the body. An autoimmune skin condition can appear anywhere, including your face, arms, back, and anywhere you have skin. They are noticeable, often itchy, and painful rashes that look like rough patches, sores, bumps, or blisters.
Examples of autoimmune diseases that target the skin include the following:
- Subacute and Cutaneous Lupus
- Celiac Disease
- Localized and Systemic Scleroderma
- Lyme Disease
How to Recognize Autoimmune Rashes
Skin rashes may occur for numerous reasons, some more concerning than others. Short-term skin changes may signal the coronavirus, allergies, viruses, bacteria, and other irritants. The rash typically disappears once the cause is eliminated and does not return.
More severe rashes are those that become chronic due to underlying conditions. Some may come and go, while others are constant. Below are specific rashes signaling you to seek medical treatment for possible autoimmune disease.
When your immune system attacks your skin and mucous membranes, blisters may occur. Multiple types of blistering autoimmune diseases exist, such as pemphigus and pemphigoid. Both types may affect the mouth, nose, throat, or genitals. Pemphigoids may also appear on the arms, thighs, and stomach.
Pemphigus blisters open easily, whereas pemphigoid blisters are tougher, hot, red, and itchy. They may feel like hives.
Celiac patients may experience clusters of itchy blisters on their elbows, knees, and scalp. A very rare Behcet’s disease is caused by inflammation of blood vessels that produces mouth and genital blisters, eye inflammation, and many other internal symptoms. Behcet’s is sometimes misdiagnosed as Herpes virus, so it is imperative to take a blood test for an accurate diagnosis.
One of the most recognizable rashes is a butterfly rash that covers the cheeks and nose, a sign of Lupus. You may have dermatomyositis if you notice red or purple discoloration or skin changes on your eyelids, hands, knees, elbows, shoulders, neck, or back.
Hard Skin Rashes
With some autoimmune disorders, such as scleroderma, the body produces too much collagen, causing the skin to harden. When the skin hardens, it can appear a different color than your normal skin. They can be round or oval patches or look like long streaks that run down the arms or legs.
Localized scleroderma affects the skin and the tissues just below the skin. Systemic scleroderma affects the skin and internal organs, including the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Thick and Scaly Rashes
Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease associated with thick, scaly skin rashes, affecting more than 8 million people in America. The condition occurs when the skin in certain areas grows too fast and forms flaky layers. Psoriasis looks like red patches with thick, white scales and can appear anywhere on the body but is mainly found on the scalp, elbows, knees, and back.
Additional Autoimmune Rash Symptoms
A rash alone can signal an autoimmune disease, but most are accompanied by other symptoms, like those signaling Lyme disease, including the initial bullseye rash that may come and go. However, Lyme disease rashes do not always have to be in the form of a bullseye. Also, pay attention to sleep disturbances, pain, hives, fever, unusual odor, and scarring.
Diseases like Alopecia can cause patches of hair loss, Vitiligo causes skin spots that become lighter or discolored, and Hypothyroidism causes extremely dry skin. Diabetes causes itchy, dry skin that may become infected if not treated. Many with diabetes report dry, cracked skin on their heels that may open and bleed. Sjogren’s syndrome occurs when the body doesn’t make enough moisture, causing excessive dryness in the mouth, eyes, genitals, and skin.
Autoimmune Rash Risk Factors
Autoimmune rashes are not something you catch from other people. They are not contagious. The reasons you get a rash vary due to risk factors, which are the things that make it more likely that you will acquire an autoimmune rash. Rarely does a person have only one risk factor. Below are well-known contributors:
- Genetics and whether autoimmune disorders run in your family is a critical factor that doesn’t guarantee you will have symptoms but puts you at higher risk.
- Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and environment, eating unhealthy foods, consuming alcohol or drugs, and living in unhealthy environments, weaken the immune system. You become more susceptible to bacterial infections, viruses, allergies, and irritants that trigger autoimmune rashes and diseases.
- Unhealthy environmental factors may include the chemicals you use to clean your home, an unclean home, air quality, and even stress. Living in an abusive environment puts you under constant stress, triggering inflammation.
Women outnumber men when it comes to acquiring autoimmune rashes and diseases. Someone with one autoimmune disorder is at higher risk of developing another or new symptoms. Finally, check with your doctor about any medications you may be taking, as they also trigger autoimmune rashes.
Next Steps to Take
The number one resource for accurately diagnosing and treating autoimmune rashes and underlying diseases is a doctor specializing in rare and infectious diseases. Using the most advanced procedures and equipment, they can perform tests for antibodies, blood abnormalities, C-reactive proteins, immunoglobulins, and more.
If you think you may have an autoimmune rash, call for help today.