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Common skin changes
Most skin changes are normal and occur with aging. Some common skin growths include:
Most moles are harmless. They may change over time. They can gradually get bigger, develop a hair, become more raised, get lighter in colour, fade away, or fall off.
- Skin tags.
These are harmless growths that appear in the skin folds on the neck, under the arms, under the breasts, or in the groin. They start as small fleshy brown spots and may grow a small stalk.
- Seborrheic keratoses.
These skin growths are almost always harmless. They are found most often on the chest or back. Sometimes they're on the scalp, face, or neck. They start as slightly raised tan spots that form a crusty appearance like a wart.
Birthmarks are coloured marks on the skin that are there at birth or appear shortly after birth. Most birthmarks are harmless and don't need treatment. Many birthmarks change, grow, shrink, or disappear.
Treatment of a skin change depends on what's causing the skin change and what other symptoms you have. Moles, skin tags, and other growths can be removed if they get irritated, bleed, or bother you.
Causes of skin changes
Causes of skin changes may include:
Acne is a common skin change that occurs during the teen years and may last into adulthood.
Melasma is a skin change in which a person develops patches of skin that are darker than the nearby skin. It can be caused by many things, including hormone changes during pregnancy or menopause.
- Sun exposure.
You may have an allergic reaction to a medicine that causes a skin change. Or you may get a skin reaction when you are out in the sun while you are taking a medicine. (This is called photosensitivity.) Rashes, hives, and itching may occur.
Lyme disease, which causes reactions from a tick bite.
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Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
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Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, or natural health products can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- A rash, or raised, red areas called hives.
- Trouble breathing.
- Mild belly pain or nausea.
Skin changes are a common side effect of many prescription and non-prescription medicines. Common side effects include:
- Rash. Any medicine can cause a rash. Two examples are ASA and antibiotics.
Colour changes in the skin. A few examples of medicines that can cause this are:
- Birth control pills.
- Medicines for heart rhythm problems, such as amiodarone.
- Cancer medicines.
- Seizure medicines.
- Reactions when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Many medicines can cause these reactions. The reaction may include just the skin that was exposed to the sun (phototoxic reaction), or it can spread to other areas of the skin (photoallergic reaction).
A new yellow tint to the skin can be a symptom of jaundice. Jaundice occurs when levels of a substance called bilirubin build up in the blood and skin. It may be caused by a problem with the liver or the blood.
With jaundice, the whites of the eyes also may look yellow, and stools may be light-coloured or whitish.
Symptoms of infection may include:
- Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or around the area.
- Red streaks leading from the area.
- Pus draining from the area.
- A fever.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
A change to a mole or other skin spot can mean that the spot has:
- Gotten bigger.
- Developed uneven borders.
- Gotten thicker, raised, or worn down.
- Changed colour.
- Started to bleed easily.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Many spots, skin growths, or moles are harmless and don't need treatment. But if you saw a doctor for your skin problem, be sure to carefully follow any instructions you were given.
If you don't have instructions from your doctor, the following steps may help.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
- Wash with a gentle skin cleanser and warm (not hot) water. Don't scrub.
- Shower after you swim or use a hot tub. It will rinse off chlorine or salt water. Use a moisturizer after you shower.
- Avoid irritating the area.
- Don't squeeze, scratch, or pick at the area.
- Leave the area exposed to the air whenever you can.
- Adjust your clothing to avoid rubbing the bump or spot. Or you can cover it with a bandage.
- Think about covering a mole or birthmark if you don't like how it looks.
If you are worried about how a skin change looks, try using cosmetics that are made to cover them. Or you may be able to cover the area another way, such as with clothing, a hat, a scarf, or a bandage.
- Pay attention to your diet.
Eat a variety of healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods, and protein foods. And drink plenty of fluids each day.
- Protect your skin from the sun.
- Stay out of the midday sun, or find shade when outdoors.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on any exposed skin.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- There are new or worse signs of an infection, such as redness, warmth, swelling, pus, or a fever.
- A mole or coloured skin spot:
- Bleeds or forms an ulcer.
- Changes in size, shape, or texture.
- Becomes sensitive, itchy, or painful.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
- Finger, Hand, and Wrist Problems, Non-Injury
- Insect Bites and Stings and Spider Bites
- Male Genital Problems and Injuries
- Mouth Problems, Non-Injury
- Rectal Problems
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
- Swollen Glands, Hernias, and Other Lumps Under the Skin
- Tick Bites
- Toe, Foot, and Ankle Problems, Non-Injury
Current as of: March 22, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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