Back

Erythema Multiforme

(Erythema Multiforme Minor; Erythema Multiforme Major)

Definition

Erythema multiforme is a skin condition often associated with an overreaction to an infection (usually herpes simplex) or medication. It can affect skin throughout the body. Erythema multiforme has 2 forms:

Causes

Erythema multiforme is an overreaction of the immune system to a certain trigger. Some erythema multiforme is associated with an infection or certain medications, though the exact trigger may not be known half the time. It is not clear why some people have this reaction.

Risk Factors

Erythema multiforme is more common in young adults.
Factors that may increase your chance of getting erythema multiforme include:
Red Blistered Skin
Skin blister boil
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Both erythema multiforme minor and major cause skin lesions that:
Erythema multiforme major may also cause:

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin problems (dermatologist).
Most cases can be diagnosed based on your medical history and skin exam. The target lesions are usually a key for diagnosis. However, the skin lesions may not be typical and a sample of the skin may be taken. The skin sample is examined under a microscope to look for findings of erythema multiforme.

Treatment

Erythema multiforme will usually go away on its own in 4-6 weeks. Mild forms usually will not need treatment.
Treatment may be needed to treat an underlying infection. This may include antiviral, antibiotic, or antifungal medications. If the erythema multiforme is related to a current medication, your doctor will work with you to stop the medication and find a replacement if needed.
Severe lesion due to erythema multiforme major may also require:

Management of Symptoms

Moist compresses and medications may help relieve discomfort from lesions. Medication options may include:
  • Oral antihistamines to help control itching
  • Topical steroid creams to help discomfort and itching
  • Acetaminophen to reduce pain and fever
  • Medicated mouthwash for lesions in the mouth

Prevention

If the lesions were due to the herpes simplex virus, there are ways to prevent outbreaks:

RESOURCES

American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org

Family Doctor—American Family Physician http://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References

Erythema multiforme. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 2, 2014. Accessed August 7, 2015.

Erythema multiforme. New Zealand Dermatological Society website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/reactions/erythema-multiforme.html. Updated December 24, 2014. Accessed August 7, 2015.

Revision Information