The entire skin surface should be examined as well as hair, nails and mucosal surfaces. This may require a chaperone. Explain the necessity of complete examination to the patient. Use an appropriate light source and magnification. Identify the presenting complaint and incidental skin conditions (especially skin cancers). Have you found solitary lesions or a widespread rash?
Assess distribution, morphology and arrangement i.e. the number, size and colour of skin lesions, which sites are involved, their symmetry, shape and arrangement. What types of lesions are present? (The next section of this course outlines the correct terminology to use.)
Touch the skin to palpate individual lesions and more diffuse rashes, noting surface and deep characteristics. Does the lesion involve epidermis, dermis or subcutis? If scaly, does the surface flake off easily? If crusted, what is underneath?
Look carefully for signs of systemic disease, such as xanthomas (hyperlipidaemia), café-au-lait macules (neurofibromatosis), acanthosis nigricans (insulin resistance) etc.
Examine the hair and nails (described in later sections of this course). Mucosal surfaces include conjunctivae, lips, gums, tongue, and buccal mucosa. Genital examinations are only required if related to the presenting complaint. Specific permission should be obtained for genital examination and a chaperone should be available to the patient.
Finally, where indicated by symptoms or clinical signs, perform a general physical examination that may include height, weight, temperature, cardiovascular/respiratory assessment and so on.
Specialised techniques used in examination of the skin include:
Less dermatologically specific tests include:
These procedures will be described in later topics where relevant to specific skin conditions.
Discuss the difficulties of examining the skin during a telemedicine consultation using still or video images.
Online continuing medical education designed for health professionals and students.
Learning objectives will be listed for each topic.
Developed in collaboration with the University of Auckland Goodfellow Unit in 2007.
Author: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2008.
Images have been sourced from the following:
© 2018 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.