As the largest organ in your body, your skin can tell you a lot about your health. But given that a range of rashes look more or less the same to the untrained eye, it may be difficult to distinguish between skin symptoms that are serious and those that are superficial. That's why doctors are sounding the alarm about one particular skin symptom, which they warn can be a sign of a major medical emergency. When this type of rash appears, they say that time is of the essence before this life-threatening condition progresses past a point of no return. Read on to learn what to look out for.
A growing red line or streak on your skin could indicate sepsis.
According to medical experts, having a red line or streak on your skin that grows in length is a serious symptom that may indicate sepsis.
"Sepsis is the most serious form of any infection," Frank Esper, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, told Health in 2019. "Sepsis is when you have an infection so bad it is disseminating across the body—kidneys shutting down, liver shutting down, heart's in trouble," he warned.
The Mayo Clinic adds that while most people can recover from sepsis, the mortality rate becomes 40 percent in the event that it progresses to septic shock.
The rash, known as lymphangitis, is usually caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.
The line itself, known as infectious lymphangitis, occurs when bacteria, viruses, or fungus cause inflammation and infection in the lymphatic channels. According to Healthline, "the most common infectious cause of lymphangitis is acute streptococcal infection," with staph infections also causing their fair share of cases. These may result from existing, internal infections, or can enter the body via an open wound.
You should track any marks on your skin daily, doctors say.
Esper says that there's an easy way to track whether redness on your skin or around an open wound is spreading. "Take a pen and mark around the site. Draw a border around the redness," he suggested, while speaking to Health. "Does the redness go beyond that mark [the next day]? If you're on antibiotics and the redness goes beyond those markings, we're on the wrong antibiotics or we need something more powerful."
However, this "wait and see" approach only applies if the redness is radiating out from a wound evenly, indicating a more general infection. If instead it takes the form of a line or streak as if along a vein, don't wait to call for medical assistance.
Esper also recommends seeking medical care if, in addition to this sign of infection, any other symptoms of sepsis arise, including mental decline, a fever, or fatigue.
And for more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
One mom recently posted about her son's lymphangitis and it went viral.
Because many people are unfamiliar with lymphangitis, they also don't know to pursue medical attention when it occurs. Alexandra Ruddy, a mother from the U.K. whose eight-year-old son displayed this symptom during a family day out, is now spreading the word about the importance of immediate treatment.
"Yesterday on our way to the beach he showed me his hand," Ruddy wrote in a Facebook post that has been shared 37,000 times since 2019, via USA Today. "I wasn't happy as I noticed red tracking down his vein. I then checked his elbow—the same."
Though Ruddy admitted that she felt "a bit silly" calling the doctor over something seemingly small, she was ultimately lauded as a hero for treating it as a medical emergency. "It isn't something you can 'leave' until Monday when the doctors are back in the office," she said, noting that sepsis can often be fatal.