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Anonymous on September 27, 2011

Do I have scabies or hives or something? I keep noticing a skin rash when I fool around with my girlfriend.

For the last three weeks, I have been getting skin rashes before and after fooling around with my girlfriend. (We aren't having sex.) These rashes (small bumps) come and disappear within an hour or so. Just recently, I spotted some on the back of my neck, on my lower chest and inner elbow. Do I have scabies or hives, or something else?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 27, 2011

Thank you for your question. There are many possible causes of skin rashes, some of which I’ll explore for you, here. But for a definite diagnosis of the bumpy rush you describe, I encourage you see your regular doctor or a dermatologist…especially since you’ve been experiencing the rash for three weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to delve into some possible causes of skin rashes…

As you mentioned, the rash on your body could be hives, set off by an allergic reaction to an irritant. What do hives typically look like? Usually hives appear as areas of red swelling that last about an hour and then vanish. They can also reappear on other parts of the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks of hives can be triggered by medications, pollen and certain types of food, but also by emotional stress and changes in the weather, among other things.

Or, since your rashes tend to appear in the context of sexual activity with your girlfriend, you might have an allergy to something your girlfriend is wearing – perhaps a new perfume or a different detergent. Can you think of anything along these lines that’s different in the last three weeks?

There are also a host of skin conditions related to eczema, like psoriasis and pityriasis rosea, that look like rashes. Psoriasis appears as scaly red areas on various parts of the body, whereas pityriasis rosea (most common among teenagers) appears as scaly patches on the chest and back. However, skin conditions within the eczema family generally don’t come and go as you describe your symptoms. 

And yes, crabs and scabies can sometimes cause rashes...as can some other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – like syphilis and HIV.  If you haven’t been tested for common STDs within the last year, talk to your doctor about your need for testing. Remember, some STDs (like genital warts, herpes and syphilis) can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact or naked dry humping; as well as unprotected oral or anal sex, or vaginal intercourse. If you like, you can learn more information about STD testing, prevention, risks and symptoms in our Expert Guides.

Thanks so much for sharing your concern with us, and I hope you’ll soon identify and resolve the cause of your rash.

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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