How To Deal With The Most Common Skin Conditions In The Wilderness

In the wilderness, where nature’s raw beauty captivates the senses, lies a realm teeming with adventure and exploration, we are always vulnerable and we need to take care of ourselves. Amidst the untamed landscapes of sprawling forests and rugged mountains, a hidden danger lurks—one that may not be as apparent as the towering trees or rushing rivers.

It is the realm of common skin conditions, afflictions that can beset even the most intrepid souls.

As we venture into the great outdoors, our skin becomes a steadfast guardian, shielding us from the sun’s scorching rays, the biting cold, and the relentless wind. Yet, it is also exposed to the challenges that arise from prolonged immersion in nature’s embrace. Rashes and blisters, bites and stings—these unwelcome visitors can swiftly transform an enchanting escapade into a worrisome ordeal if left unattended.

Skin problems are quite common in the wild

Imagine, as you traverse a dense forest, the insidious itch of poison ivy creeping upon your skin. Or perhaps, in the depths of a mosquito-infested marshland, the incessant buzzing is matched only by the tormenting itch of their bites. In the wilderness, encounters with nettles, thorny bushes, poisonous plants, and venomous creatures are not uncommon, leaving their mark on our skin.

Understanding how to handle these skin problems becomes paramount for those who seek solace in the wild. Knowledge and preparedness become trusted companions on the journey. Armed with awareness of common irritants, preventive measures, and effective treatments, one can mitigate discomfort and potential complications.

By recognizing the telltale signs of each ailment, adventurers can discern harmless irritations from serious infections, taking swift action when necessary. Equipped with protective clothing, insect repellents, and sunscreen, they shield their skin from the perils nature presents. A well-stocked first-aid kit becomes their ally, filled with remedies tailored to wilderness-related skin conditions, ready to provide relief and promote healing.

In the following discussion, we embark on a journey through the wilderness of skin conditions, unveiling the most common afflictions encountered and exploring practical steps to manage them effectively.

Common skin conditions – Skin rash

Skin rashes are a common issue encountered in outdoor settings. Sometimes, a rash can provide valuable clues for diagnosing certain diseases. If a patient is running a fever or appears visibly ill, it is important to consider conditions such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, typhoid fever, syphilis, meningococcal meningitis, strep throat, measles, and mononucleosis.

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Many rash-causing infections are viral and do not respond to antibiotics. However, in the wilderness where professional medical assistance may be unavailable, if a rash is accompanied by symptoms of illness, particularly fever and body aches, it is advisable to empirically treat it with an antibiotic like doxycycline. A dosage of 100 mg twice daily should be continued for at least 2 days beyond the subsiding of fever.

Certain infections may require longer antibiotic treatment, so it is important to follow the prescribed course if there is a likelihood of dealing with such conditions.

Localized rashes without fever are often caused by superficial skin infections, fungal infections, or allergic reactions. Itching can be alleviated with antihistamines or over-the-counter pain medications. Diphenhydramine, available in the Non-Rx Oral Medication Module, is an effective antihistamine. Taking one capsule every 6 hours (or two in severe cases) can provide relief from itch caused by various factors.

As itch and pain travel along the same nerves, any pain medication can also help alleviate itching. It is generally advised to avoid warm soaks as they can exacerbate itch and rashes unless there are signs of deep infection.

Diphenhydramine is a highly effective oral antihistamine, but it’s worth noting that Atarax (found in the Rx Oral/Topical Module) and its injectable form, Vistaril (found in the Rx Injectable Module), also possess antihistamine properties and can be used to relieve itch. Applying a piece of Spenco 2nd Skin from the Topical Bandaging Module can provide soothing relief to non-weeping or blistered and weeping rashes. Cool compresses can also help soothe a rash.

For moist, weeping lesions, wet soaks using diluted Epsom salts, boric acid, or even table salt can help dry out the affected area (this includes rashes from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac). If the rash is dry and scaly, ointments are generally more effective than gels, lotions, or creams. In the case of blistered rashes, creams, lotions, or gels are the preferred choices. Specific types of rashes may require specific topical medications, so it’s important to use the appropriate treatment accordingly.

Common skin conditions – Fungal Infection

common skin conditions – fungal infection

Fungal infections are commonly encountered in areas such as the groin, armpits, skin folds, scrotum, under a woman’s breasts, and around the rectum. Rashes associated with fungal infections can vary in color from bright red to almost colorless, but they typically appear as a dull red shade. Often, small satellite spots can be observed near the main rash area, forming a confluent pattern.

Fungal infections tend to spread slowly, with the lesions gradually increasing in size over weeks or even months. It’s important to exercise caution and differentiate fungal rashes from other conditions like Lyme Disease.

Treatment for fungal rashes involves the use of specific antifungal medications. Clotrimazole 2% cream, available in the Non-Rx Topical Bandaging Module, is an effective choice. Apply a thin coat of the cream twice daily. Significant improvement should be noticeable within 2 weeks for conditions like “jock itch,” although it may take up to 4 weeks for athlete’s foot and body ringworm.

Treatment should be continued until all signs of the rash have disappeared, and then an additional 3 weeks of daily treatment is recommended. If there is no improvement, it is possible that the initial diagnosis was incorrect or the fungus is resistant to the chosen medication.

For more severe or extensive body surface fungal infections, Diflucan (fluconazole) is an option from the Rx Oral Medication Module. A dosage of 150 mg per day is usually effective, but it should be noted that this medication is primarily included in limited quantities for the treatment of vaginitis.

Common skin conditions – Allergic Dermatitis

Allergic dermatitis is characterized by the presence of vesicles or small blisters on red, swollen, and intensely itchy skin. The definitive sign of allergic or contact dermatitis is the appearance of a line of these blisters.

Common causes of allergic dermatitis include contact with poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak. Additionally, contact with caterpillars, millipedes, and various plants, including seemingly harmless evergreens, can trigger allergic or toxic skin reactions.

When dealing with a toxic reaction caused by exposure to a harmful substance like certain insects or plants, the treatment approach is similar to that of allergic dermatitis. Begin by thoroughly cleansing the affected area with soap and water. Subsequently, administer diphenhydramine at a dosage of 25 mg every 6 hours from the Non-Rx Oral Medication Module. Additionally, apply hydrocortisone cream 1% from the Topical Bandaging Unit twice daily.

For weeping lesions, wet soaks, as mentioned previously, can be employed as part of the treatment. Using an occlusive plastic dressing can enhance the effectiveness of the relatively mild 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Within the Rx Oral/Topical Medication Module, two highly effective medications are available to address this issue. Continue using diphenhydramine, but also introduce Decadron (4 mg tablets) at a dosage of one tablet daily for a period of 5 to 7 days.

Additionally, replace the hydrocortisone cream with Topicort 0.25% ointment. Apply a thin coat of the ointment twice daily without using an occlusive plastic dressing. This combination should yield rapid results in alleviating the symptoms.

Common skin conditions – Bacterial Skin Rash

Impetigo is a common bacterial infection that affects the superficial layers of the skin, resulting in a rash. The typical presentation of impetigo involves reddish areas surrounding pus-filled blisters, often accompanied by crusty and scabbed skin. These lesions tend to spread rapidly over the course of several days. Unlike other infections, the skin beneath the lesions is generally not swollen.

Impetigo commonly starts around the nose and buttocks, but can quickly spread to other areas of the body due to scratching. In the early stages, the lesions appear as small pimples, which develop crusts within 12 to 24 hours.

Proper management of impetigo involves cleansing the affected area with surgical soap or hydrogen peroxide. After cleaning, apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the lesions. It is advisable to avoid placing bandages on the affected areas, as this can potentially facilitate the spread of germs beneath the tape.

Bacterial skin infections typically require treatment with prescription antibiotics. In the case of impetigo, Levaquin (500 mg once daily) from the Rx Oral/Topical Medication Module is a suitable option. Alternatively, the Rx Injectable Medication Module contains Rocephin, which is well-suited for treating this condition. Administering 500 mg of Rocephin via intramuscular injection once daily would be an appropriate approach.

Common skin conditions – Seabather’s Eruption

common skin conditions – seabather’s eruption

Seabather’s eruption refers to the sudden onset of an intensely itchy rash that occurs after swimming in certain waters.

In regions like south Florida and the Caribbean, this condition is caused by the larvae of the thimble jellyfish (Linuche unguiculata) or the larvae of the sea anemone (Edwardsiella lineata). In fact, the latter has been identified as the cause of numerous cases on Long Island, New York. With the impact of global warming, it is likely that this condition will become a concern in regions much farther north than its current range.

Within 24 hours of exposure to ocean water, individuals affected by seabather’s eruption may experience the emergence of hives (urticaria) or develop a fine red or pimply rash. Typically, the rash appears in areas covered by bathing suits, as the tiny larvae become trapped against the skin and release nematocysts, triggering the onset of the disease.

Additional symptoms often associated with this condition include fever, chills, weakness, and headache, as the larvae penetrate the skin and cause illness.

In south Florida, occurrences of seabather’s eruption are most common from March to August, with a peak in outbreaks during May. In Long Island waters, outbreaks typically occur from mid-August until the end of the swimming season in early September. These outbreaks are sporadic, with only a few cases reported in some years, while other years may see thousands of cases during peak periods.

Treatment for seabather’s eruption involves the use of topical corticosteroids. Options include applying 1% hydrocortisone cream from the Non-Rx Topical Bandaging Module four times daily or using 0.25% Topicort ointment from the Rx Oral/Topical Module twice daily.

Additionally, taking an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (25 mg) from the Non-Rx Oral Medication Module four times a day can help alleviate symptoms. It is advisable for swimmers to remove their bathing suits and promptly shower after leaving the water. It is important to note that swimming at a nude beach does not provide protection against seabather’s eruption solely because a bathing suit is not being worn.


When venturing into the wilderness or engaging in outdoor activities, it is essential to be aware of common skin conditions that can be encountered. From rashes associated with diseases to fungal infections, allergic dermatitis, and bacterial skin infections, understanding how to handle these skin problems becomes crucial in such situations.

It is important to note that the provided information serves as a general guide, and seeking professional medical advice or following the instructions in relevant medication modules is essential for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

By being knowledgeable about these common skin conditions and equipped with the right information and resources, individuals can effectively handle skin problems encountered in the wilderness, ensuring a safer and more enjoyable outdoor experience.

his article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.

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