Q: I have an embarrassing rash. How do I talk to my doctor about it?

A: Skin conditions are among the most common reasons patients visit a primary-care doctor. About one in four Americans sees a doctor for skin disease each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Rash” is a broad term to describe an area of irritated or swollen skin, often as a result of skin disease. Rashes can be contagious (ringworm, shingles, poison ivy) or noncontagious (eczema, hives, contact dermatitis), and they can have many different causes.

Although common, rashes present a challenge for some patients to be open with their doctors. Patients may find the location or symptoms of their rash embarrassing and may not want to talk about it.

But patients should not feel awkward talking about a rash or any other condition with their doctors. Having accurate information can help your doctor diagnose the rash and identify appropriate treatment options.

For primary-care doctors, most rashes are routine and treatable. Doctors are focused on treating the condition and not on judging the person behind the condition.

Patients also can take steps to ease their mind while visiting the doctor. The following tips can help patients become more comfortable sharing health information with their doctors:

  • Build a doctor-patient relationship. Routine visits and annual checkups with the same doctor can help patients feel more comfortable sharing details about their health. Your doctor is on your side.
  • Bring a support person. Patients can ask for a trusted friend or family member to join them in the doctor’s office to provide reassurance and emotional support during the visit.
  • Understand confidentiality laws. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 — better known as HIPAA — protects the privacy of personal health information. Unless a patient identifies a personal representative, medical records stay between the patient and doctor.

Patients who do not seek treatment for their rashes risk their conditions becoming worse and posing a larger threat to their health. Primary-care doctors can treat common rashes and most skin diseases, but some rashes may be related to pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases, and may require the expertise of a dermatologist or another specialist. Rashes can also be caused by insect bites or reactions to fabrics or chemicals, or exposure to plants or animals.

If you are experiencing a rash or another skin disease, talk to your doctor and be open about your condition.

Jeff Olson is a primary-care physician at Nazareth Hospital.