What Is a Maculopapular Rash?

Maculopapular rashes look like a patch of discolored skin with raised bumps. The rash can be itchy and uncomfortable and form for a number of reasons.

A man itches his arm

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A maculopapular rash is a type of skin rash that has raised bumps on discolored patches of skin. The rash can be itchy and uncomfortable. A maculopapular rash can be a symptom of an infection, an allergic reaction, or a number of other health conditions. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the rash, which is why it’s key to get a diagnosis from a healthcare provider. 

What Does a Maculopapular Rash Look Like?

The term maculopapular rash describes a mix of flat, discolored areas of skin (macules) and raised bumps on the skin (papules). 

The bumps and surrounding patches of skin might appear red or pink in light skin tones. In darker skin tones, the rash can be more hyperpigmented or present in a varying shade of red.

These rashes can show up virtually anywhere on your body. The size of the rash can vary, but maculopapular rashes typically affect a large area of skin. The rash also develops fairly quickly. 

In addition to the visual skin change, you might also experience itching.

A man with a maculopapular rash across his torso and arms



When trying to determine the cause of your maculopapular rash, it can be helpful to think through: 

  • Medications you’ve just taken
  • The types of foods you’ve recently eaten
  • Viruses to which you may have been exposed
  • External irritants with which you’ve come into contact 

That’s because a variety of medical conditions and external triggers can prompt a maculopapular rash.

Medication Reaction

If you’ve recently started taking a new over-the-counter or prescription medication and noticed a rash soon after, an adverse drug reaction might be the culprit. 

Maculopapular rashes can develop in reaction to medications like:

  • Antibiotics, such as amoxicillin
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Allopurinol, a gout medication with brand names like Lopurin and Zyloprim
  • Chemotherapy
  • Ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) with brand names like Advil and Motrin

Depending on the drug, the rash can take anywhere from a day to a few weeks to develop.

Food Allergy

You might develop a maculopapular rash as part of your immune system’s response to coming in contact with a food to which you are allergic. 

In addition to the maculopapular rash, you may also notice symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling
  • Stuffy nose
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramping

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to food can begin within minutes to hours of having eaten the food. Prompt medical care may be needed to avoid serious complications.

Bacterial or Viral Infection

Various types of infections may cause a maculopapular rash. These include:

Skin Conditions 

A maculopapular rash can develop with contact dermatitis, which happens when an irritant comes into contact with your skin. Common irritants that can lead to this reaction include:

  • Detergents
  • Bleach
  • Plants
  • Soaps
  • Disinfectants


Getting a maculopapular rash checked out will involve a review of your medical history and a physical examination. 

The healthcare provider will likely ask you questions about:

  • How long you’ve had the rash
  • If you have any other symptoms
  • If you’ve been in contact with anyone who has been sick
  • If you’ve recently traveled 
  • Whether you are up-to-date on your vaccinations

From there, they’ll want to take a closer look at your skin. If needed, blood tests or a biopsy (a small skin sample) may be taken to help with the diagnosis.


The goals for maculopapular rash treatment will be to address the underlying cause, ease symptoms, and clear your rash as quickly as possible. This might include:

  • Antibiotics if the cause of the rash is a bacterial infection
  • Antiviral medications if the cause of the rash is a viral infection
  • Antihistamines to relieve itching from an allergen exposure 

If it’s determined that your rash was prompted by exposure to an allergen or irritant, it’ll likely be recommended to avoid the trigger. If medication is the suspected cause, a healthcare provider can determine whether the medication should be stopped or adjusted.

Keep in mind that rashes can take days or sometimes weeks to fully clear and heal. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you notice a maculopapular rash developing, you should see a healthcare provider if it: 

  • Covers most of your body
  • Is accompanied by a fever
  • Spreads rapidly
  • Blisters
  • Is painful
  • Appears infected

A Quick Review

A maculopapular rash is characterized by a mix of a flat, discolored area of skin (macule) and raised bumps (papules). A variety of infections, medical conditions, or substance exposures can trigger the rash. The amount of time a rash takes to develop—and how long it lasts—depends on the cause. Some maculopapular rashes go away on their own, while others might need treatment. Treatment options depend on the underlying cause, which a healthcare provider can help determine after an exam.

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