You know the scene all too well: you're in the shower scrubbing up, and you stumble across something that definitely wasn't there last week. At least, you think so. Panic quickly ensues, followed by a hefty dose of denial. And then you convince yourself that problems aren't problems if you ignore them. The truth is that, left alone, most skin issues—even the scary-looking ones—will go away on their own. This doesn't mean you can ignore a new mole, lump, or bump, though. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid needless freak-outs while seeking medical assistance when necessary. Ask yourself these five questions to determine if your skin issue warrants expert assistance.
Does it hurt?
If the lump is painful to the touch, itchy, or feels like a bruise, it's time to talk to a doctor. Painful lumps may be infected abscesses or swollen lymph nodes that denote an infection. Itchy moles could signal early cancer or dangerous skin changes.
Is it changing?
Even if you've had a mole for decades, if it suddenly changes color, shape, or size, it's time to talk to a physician since this is an early sign of skin cancer. Likewise, pimples, swollen glands, and other lumps and bumps that continually change—or that begin changing after a long period of dormancy—can be early signals that something has gone wrong internally.
Does it look different than similar marks?
If you've had similar marks before, you have plenty of grounds for comparison. Compare a new mole to old ones, or evaluate whether a current pimple looks different from those you've had in the past. If it's similar, you're probably in the clear, but if the new bump marks a clear departure, it's time to talk to your doctor.
Has this happened before?
If your doctor has given you reassurance that a similar symptom is not life-threatening, you're probably ok. But if a skin mark cleared up, only to later return with a vengeance, this could indicate something sinister. It's common to get the same cyst, pimple, or mark over and over, but you should still get the all-clear from your doctor.
Do you have other symptoms?
If the skin mark is associated with other symptoms—even seemingly unrelated ones—you could have a problem. A fever, painful rash, sore muscles, chronic headaches, or gastrointestinal distress all warrant medical attention when they're accompanied by unusual skin lesions. In most cases, it's a mere coincidence that the symptoms have occurred at the same time, but do you want to take a gamble on your life?