The short answer is yes, you can. The better question is whether you should.
Skin problems are ordinarily treated by a dermatologist, who specializes in evaluating and treating conditions affecting the skin, hair and nails. In most urgent care settings, the doctor will be able to diagnose a skin infection and may prescribe antibiotics and creams to treat the infection. Often, the patient is then referred to a dermatologist for follow-up care. It may be preferable to see a dermatologist directly, eliminating a long wait in an ER or urgent care medical practice. Even patients who go to their primary care physician may be immediately referred to a dermatologist.
Not all skin problems can be evaluated in an emergency room or urgent care facility. Generally, a trip to the ER or urgent care will not be necessary when you can schedule an appointment with a board-certified doctor dermatologist. Video Visits, where you see a dermatologist remotely using video conferencing platform, is an option for people to receive a diagnosis and plan of treatment without having to leave the house.
Several studies have shown that a serious skin infection is the most common dermatological condition that triggers a visit to an emergency room or urgent care facility. Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, accounts for almost half of all dermatology-related ER visits, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Skin infections on the leg are the most common cellulitis cases that result in a trip to the emergency room.
So, how do we define a serious skin infection?
You can get an infection any time the skin is broken, whether from a cut, scrape, puncture wound, piercing, tattoo, insect sting or bite.
Symptoms of a skin infection include:
- Worsening pain
- Increased swelling around the affected area
- The injury hasn’t healed after 10 days
- Pus or fluid oozing from the injured area
- Redness around the injury
- A red streak extending from the affected skin toward the heart
- A yellowish crust on top of red skin
The time to seek urgent care is when a patient has an obvious infection and is running a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher. In addition, urgent care is recommended when the redness or swelling around the skin begins to spread.
Eczema is a condition that can closely resemble an infection. Patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, red and cracked. Blisters may form on the skin. Eczema may look worse on children, especially because they may have a harder time resisting the temptation to scratch the skin.
If a rash or other skin problem spreads across more than 10 percent of your body, contact a dermatologist immediately, especially if you are also experiencing fever, joint aches, muscle pain, difficulty swallowing or are unable to sleep.
Here are some common conditions that a dermatologist can diagnose quickly and treat effectively, perhaps sparing you a trip to the ER:
These three vine-like plants all contain the oil urushiol, which causes that notorious itching, blisters and redness. Your dermatologist may prescribe a steroid medication to combat the skin irritation. However, in rare cases of exposure to these toxic plants, people who experience trouble breathing, sudden swelling or a spreading rash across the body – especially on the face – should seek emergency care. Breathing problems often arise when the toxic plants are burned and the urushiol gets into the air, where it is inhaled, although people highly allergic to urushiol can develop breathing issues just from skin contact with the plants.
This viral infection can cause an extremely painful rash, commonly along the side of the torso. People who have had chickenpox are more susceptible to shingles because both are caused by the same virus.
Dermatologists may prescribe antiviral medications to heal the shingles rash and recommend over-the-counter pain relievers.
This is a contagious skin infection caused by a fungus, not worms, despite the misleading name. Athlete’s foot is a common form of ringworm. You can recognize the infection by the ring-shaped, flat patches it forms on the skin, often accompanied by peeling and flaking. Treatment involves antifungal medications.
This is a contagious bacterial infection caused by strep (streptococcus) or staph (staphylococcus). It causes itchy red sores that form a yellow-brown crust. Impetigo is treated with antibiotics, either skin creams, pills or some combination.
In the absence of skin infection symptoms, severe allergic reactions or adverse reaction to drugs, visiting the local urgent care facility for skin problems is likely to result in a referral to a dermatologist, anyway.
This is because not all urgent care facilities are equipped to diagnose skin conditions or have the personnel trained to recognize the vast variety of skin issues and diseases. So they depend on the expertise of a dermatologist. In fact, many community healthcare centers maintain a network of on-call dermatologists who consult and take patient referrals. In a non-emergency, wouldn’t it be easier and less time-consuming to go straight to the dermatologist, rather than an urgent care?
If it’s not an urgent situation requiring emergency medical care, patients are likely to save time and money by consulting directly with a dermatologist about their skin problems. So long as you’re not running a fever and experiencing significant pain, a trip to the emergency room or an urgent care medical practice may not be your best option for getting back to good health.
You can always consult with a board-certified dermatologist from the comfort of your own home. New patients can even complete the registration form online, making the process of seeing your dermatologist quick and simple.
Read more: Can a Walk in Clinic Refer You to a Dermatologist?