He studied medicine in Vienna, and afterwards worked in the dermatology clinic of Ferdinand von Hebra. In 1888 he became an associate professor of dermatology and syphilology at the University of Innsbruck, and in 1892 succeeded Eduard Lipp as chair of the dermatology clinic at the University of Graz. In 1901 he attained a full professorship at Graz.
Jarisch is remembered for his work involving venereal disease. His name is lent to an inflammatory reaction to treatment of syphilis known as the "Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction", a symptom named in conjunction with German-Jewish dermatologist Karl Herxheimer (1861-1942). Jarisch noticed unexpected illness and worsening of skin lesions in some syphilitic patients immediately after being treated with mercury. The patients would experience fever, nausea, vomiting, plus their lesions would worsen before eventually abating and healing. The illness could last as long as 2–3 days, which was then followed by resolution of the skin lesions. The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction is also the name given to a reaction often precipitated by treatment of relapsing fevers. It usually begins within a few hours of the first dose and causes an initial rise in temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure, then followed by marked vasodilation and sweating, which can result in shock.
His son, also named Adolf Jarisch (1891-1965), was a noted pharmacologist. The Bezold–Jarisch reflex, a cardiovascular decompressor reflex, is named after his son, Adolf Jarisch Jr., and physiologist Albert von Bezold (1836-1868).
Among his numerous publications is Die Hautkrankheiten, an influential book on skin disorders that was included in Carl Nothnagel's Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. Other publications by Jarisch include:
- Lupus vulgaris, 1890 – treatise on Lupus vulgaris.
- Demonstration eines Falles von Summer Eruption, 1896
- Demonstration von Psorospermien der Darierschen Dermatose, 1896 – Demonstration of Psorospermia in regards to Darier's dermatosis.
- Vorstellung eines Falles von Hydrocystoma, 1896 – Presentation of a case of hidrocystoma.
- NCBI National Library of Medicine, Biography of Adolf Jarisch