Your body has many ways of protecting you from harm. A cough is one of these methods of protection. Coughing helps clear your throat or lungs of irritants and allows you to breathe more easily.
While a cough is your body’s way of clearing irritants, it may also indicate that you have an underlying medical condition. Coughing can be acute (lasting for a short time) or it can be chronic (lasting for more than three weeks).
A rash is the skin’s reaction to an irritant or underlying medical condition. Rashes can vary in appearance. They can be red, scaly, or blister-like.
Several different infections and other medical conditions can cause rash and cough. Here are 10 possible causes.
Warning: Graphic images ahead.
- Allergies are an immune system response to a foreign substance that’s not typically harmful to your body.
- They cause a wide array of symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening.
- The most common allergens include pet dander, foods, medications, insect stings, mold, and plants.
- Allergies may be diagnosed with a skin test.
- Headache, fatigue, low fever, sore throat, runny nose, diarrhea, and nausea
- Children are more likely than adults to experience a rash
- Round, bright red rash on the cheeks
- Lacy-patterned rash on the arms, legs, and upper body that might be more visible after a hot shower or bath
- This is a zoonotic bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Coxiella burnetii.
- Humans typically get Q fever when they breathe in dust that was contaminated by infected cattle, sheep, or goats.
- Symptoms vary widely, but are usually mild and flu-like.
- High fever, chills, sweats, body aches, cough, and severe headaches are possible symptoms.
Image by: Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Libero Ajello [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- This type of lung infection is caused by inhaling Histoplasma capsulatum fungal spores.
- The spores that cause this condition are commonly found in places where birds and bats have roosted.
- It has acute and chronic forms, and is generally a mild illness, though it may become chronic or severe in people with weak immune systems.
- Symptoms include fever, dry cough, chest pain, joint pain, and red bumps on your lower legs.
By Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Symptoms include fever, sore throat, red, watery eyes, loss of appetite, cough, and runny nose
- Red rash spreads from the face down the body three to five days after first symptoms appear
- Tiny red spots with blue-white centers appear inside the mouth
Image by: (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
- Occurs at the same time as or right after a strep throat infection
- Red skin rash all over the body (but not the hands and feet)
- Rash is made up of tiny bumps that make it feel like “sandpaper”
- Bright red tongue
Image by: CDC/ Dr. Lucille K. Georg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Coccidioidomycosis is also known as valley fever.
- It's an infection caused by the Coccidioides fungus commonly found in soil and dust in the southwestern United States and in parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America.
- The symptoms of valley fever often resemble those of the flu including fever, cough, headache, chills, night sweats, joint pain, fatigue, and rash.
- An extremely rare, serious form of valley fever may spread to other parts of the body including skin, bones, liver, brain, or heart.
Image by: Nowack et al./Wikimedia
- This is an inflammatory disease in which granulomas, or clumps of inflammatory cells, form in various organs and tissues such as the lungs, skin, or lymph nodes.
- The exact cause of sarcoidosis is unknown.
- Symptoms of sarcoidosis vary and depend on which organ or tissue is involved.
- General symptoms may include fever, fatigue, joint pain, weight loss, dry mouth, nosebleeds, and abdominal swelling.
- Infective endocarditis is an infection of the endocardial parts of the heart, especially the valves or prosthetic valve devices.
- Symptoms vary from person to person, but include fever, chills, sweating, weakness, fatigue, headache, body aches, night sweats, abdominal pain, cough, and chest pain that is worse with breathing.
- Other, rare symptoms include red spots on the palms and soles and tender nodules on the hands.
Image by: Emiliano Burzagli [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
- This contagious, viral illness shows up as a high fever followed by a signature skin rash.
- Typically, it affects children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.
- Sudden, high fever between 102°F and 105°F (38.8°C and 40.5°C) that lasts for three to five days.
- Fever is followed by a pink rash that starts on the neck and abdomen and then spreads to the face, arms, and legs.
- Other symptoms include irritability, fatigue, swollen eyelids, swollen lymph nodes, decreased appetite, diarrhea, sore throat, and mild cough.
Cough and rash are typically signs of an underlying medical condition, such as a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. They may also be symptoms of an allergy. Below are some examples of diseases that have both cough and rash as symptoms that can commonly occur together:
Scarlet fever is caused by an infection from group A Streptococcus bacteria, and it often occurs from strep throat. The bacterial infection creates a toxin within the body that produces a rash all over the body and sometimes a bright red tongue.
The initial symptoms of measles typically include:
- a high fever
- a cough
- a runny nose
- red, watery eyes
Three to five days later, a rash will appear that starts on the face and spreads down the body as if a paint bucket was poured over the head.
Coccidioidomycosis is a fungal infection that mostly occurs in the southwestern United States. It’s also known as “valley fever.” People become infected when they breathe in the spores of the fungus. It can cause both a cough and a rash on the upper body or legs due to an infection from the spores.
While you can experience these symptoms at the same time, they may not necessarily be related. For example, you could have a cough due to a cold and use a new laundry detergent that irritates your skin, causing a rash.
Fifth disease, sometimes called “slapped cheek disease,” is caused by a virus. It shows as a red rash on the arms, legs, and cheeks, and is fairly common and mild among children.
Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection of the lungs that may in some cases cause skin lesions. The disease is often spread through the droppings of birds and bats, and humans can contract it in caves, construction sites, renovated buildings, and chicken or pigeon coops.
Q fever, or “query fever,” is a bacterial infection that’s often transmitted by farm animals. It usually causes symptoms similar to the flu. Q fever is not usually serious, but in rare cases, it can become chronic and potentially damage a person’s vital organs.
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease in which clumps of inflamed cells form in various organs of the body. The cause of sarcoidosis is not known, but it may be triggered by the immune system.
Infective endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium, the innermost tissues of the chambers and valves of the heart. This disorder usually occurs in people with heart conditions. Infective endocarditis is a serious condition and should be treated promptly.
When children come down with a cough and rash, it can mean something different than when it occurs in adults. If multiple children are in the household, try to quarantine the sick child as much as possible until they’re diagnosed. This can help prevent the spread of contagious diseases. Some causes of cough and rash in children include the following:
- Scarlet fever is common in children, and your doctor should treat it with antibiotics as soon as possible.
- Measles can occur in children, though a vaccine can prevent it.
- If they have roseola, young children who are typically 6 to 36 months old can develop symptoms of an upper respiratory virus, such as a cough, congestion, and high fever, which are then followed by a rash. This is a self-limiting disease.
A cough and rash in your child are likely to be contagious. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your child’s symptoms to prevent the spread of a contagious disease to others.
When you visit your doctor about a cough and rash, they’ll first have to diagnose the cause of the symptoms you’re having.
Your doctor will perform a physical examination. They’ll listen to your lungs and breathing, take your temperature, and examine the rashes on your body. If necessary, they can run blood work to test for certain infections and examine your blood counts. Your doctor will take a swab from the back of your throat and check it for bacterial infections, such as strep throat.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following:
- a violent cough that produces thick, foul-smelling, or green phlegm
- a fever in a baby younger than 3 months old
- a cough that lasts longer than 10 days
- a cough that causes a baby to turn blue or go limp
- a rash that seems to spread across the body
- a rash that becomes painful or doesn’t seem to improve
This information is a summary. Always seek medical attention if you’re concerned you may be experiencing a medical emergency.
Doctors typically treat a cough and rash related to a bacterial infection with antibiotics. However, an antibiotic won’t help if the infection is viral. Depending on the type of viral illness, most doctors will opt to treat with supportive care. In other words, a direct cure for the virus may not be available but the doctor expects it will resolve on its own and they recommend treating the symptoms.
Because conditions such as measles and scarlet fever spread easily, you must wash your hands frequently and refrain from coughing on others as much as possible. If your child is diagnosed with either of these conditions, you may need to keep them out of school for a period.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for you, taking the entire course of treatment is important. While you may feel better before your medication runs out, the bacteria may still be present in your body. Keep taking the treatment until it’s completed.
At-home care for cough and rash include resting and drinking plenty of water. Drink more water than you normally would, sipping on your drink every few minutes. Taking a shower or using a vaporizer that emits cold vapor can help break up the mucus in your lungs, which can help you to cough it out. You can add medicated vapors into some vaporizers to help soothe a cough.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as decongestants and cough syrup, can help relieve your symptoms. Read the directions carefully if you’re considering administering these medications to a child. Typically, people avoid giving decongestants to children under 6 years old because side effects occur more often in children than adults.
You can soothe itchy rashes using oatmeal baths and OTC Benadryl, either cream or oral medication. Sometimes, you can apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation and therefore reduce itching. Avoid scratching the rash, even if it itches. This will help prevent scarring.
While sometimes infections leading to cough and rash may be unavoidable, you can take several preventive measures to avoid infection. These include the following:
- Practice frequent handwashing to help avoid catching an infectious disease.
- Avoid others who are sick to reduce the likelihood of catching something contagious.
- Avoid smoking and avoid secondhand smoke because smoke can aggravate a cough.
- Avoid using highly perfumed lotions or body treatments. They could worsen your rash.
- Wash your skin in warm water to minimize irritation.
- Stay up to date on your vaccines, including those for whooping cough and the measles.
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