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Skin signs

Do you ever wonder what your body’s largest organ is trying to say to you?

Considering all the wear and tear it gets—exposure to the elements, washing and drying, pulling and tugging, squinting and smiling—the skin is remarkably resilient. But every so often, an illness or an external irritant causes some sort of unsightly, uncomfortable eruption. For the most part, these bumps, spots and rashes are harmless, but sometimes skin signs are a cry for (medical) attention. Here, then, is a guide to your skin’s secret code:

Skin signWhat it may meanWhat you should do
A scaly red spot; a change in color, shape or size of a mole; any new skin growth; bleeding in a mole or other growthSkin cancerSee your healthcare provider immediately.
A cut that fails to healSkin cancer, circulatory problems, diabetesSee your healthcare provider.
A new, dark, crusty mole-like spotSeborrheic keratosisNo treatment is required, but your healthcare provider might want to examine the growth to rule out a more serious condition.
A very painful, blistery rash on one side of the body onlyShingles, a viral nerve infectionSee your healthcare provider. Antiviral medication can help if given early. He or she may also prescribe painkillers and a soothing ointment.
A flaky, intensely itchy rash that merges into the surrounding skinEczemaKeep the affected skin clean and dry. Don’t use harsh soaps. If the rash persists, see your healthcare provider.
Persistent itching without a rashAn underlying disorder, such as liver disease, diabetes, kidney failure, blood disorders or thyroid diseaseSee your healthcare provider, who will try to determine the cause. A nonprescription, unscented moisturizer can help soothe skin, as may compounds that contain menthol or eucalyptus.
A red, blistery rash that oozes, scabs and scalesContact dermatitis, which may be caused by cosmetics, plants, metal compounds, chemicals used in clothing manufacturing and drugs used in skin creamsIdentify and avoid the trigger. Keep the area clean, do not open blisters and cover with dry bandages to prevent infection. Corticosteroid creams can relieve mild dermatitis. See your healthcare provider if blistering is severe.