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Erythema Multiforme

Erythema multiforme is a skin condition that develops from an unknown cause. It can present as either a mild rash or a severe, life threatening form known as erythema multiforme major. Because erythema multiforme is usually self-limiting, it requires no treatment. The use of glucocorticoid therapy remains uncertain when treating erythema multiforme.

Erythema Multiforme

Causes of Erythema Multiforme

The mild form of erythema multiforme presents as a mildly itchy rash, with pink-red blotches that are symmetrically arranged on the extremities. It usually fades within seven to ten days. Many times it produces as target lesion, where a red-pink ring forms around a pale center. There are many suspected causes of erythema multiforme, including:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • A parasite
  • A virus such as Herpes simplex
  • Drug reactions to antibiotics

Erythema multiforme is ultimately a hypersensitivity reaction in the body. The most effective treatments include antihistamines to control the itching, but the major goal is discovering what is causing the rash. In severe cases, also known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, cell death causes the epidermis to separate from the dermis. It is a form of toxic epidermal necrolysis and arises from a disorder of the immune system. Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a medical emergency, but no common treatment plan has yet been devised. It has a mortality rate of about five percent.

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