What is erythroderma?
Erythroderma is a severe inflammation of most of the body’s skin
surface. It is also called generalized exfoliative dermatitis. It may be caused by a
reaction to a medicine. Or it may be caused by another skin condition or cancer.
It causes redness and scaling of the skin spread over an area.
This starts in patches and spreads over the body. The skin begins to peel (slough)
off. This leads to problems with your ability to manage body temperature. It can
also cause protein and fluid loss. And it can cause an increased metabolic rate.
Erythroderma can be life-threatening. You may need to spend time in the hospital or
burn center for treatment.
What causes erythroderma?
It can be caused by:
A complication of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, pityriasis
rubra pilaris, or another skin condition
A reaction to medicines such as penicillin, barbiturates, or
Certain types of cancer such as lymphoma
In about 1 in 4 people, the cause is not known.
Who is at risk for erythroderma?
You are more at risk if you:
Already have a skin condition
Are taking penicillin, barbiturates, or sulfonamide
What are the symptoms of erythroderma?
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. They can
The red, peeling skin patches may appear and spread over hours,
days, or weeks.
Other symptoms can include:
The symptoms of erythroderma can be like other health conditions.
Make sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is erythroderma diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health
history. He or she will give you a physical exam. The physical exam will include
checking your skin. This is because the diagnosis is based on how your skin looks.
But it’s also important to find the cause of the erythroderma. Your provider will
see if that might be certain medicines, other skin conditions, or certain types of
You may also have a skin biopsy. Small pieces of skin are taken
from your body and sent to a lab. A pathologist looks at them with a microscope.
How is erythroderma treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general
health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
If your symptoms are severe, you may need to spend time in the
hospital. You will be treated with:
You may need to:
Stop any medicines that may be causing the condition
Treat another skin condition that may be causing it
Treat cancer that may be causing it
Other treatments may include:
Heated blankets to keep you warm
Petroleum jelly applied to skin, then covered by gauze
Systemic corticosteroids, in severe cases
Adding fluids back into the body (rehydration)
Extensive wound care, to prevent infection
If your symptoms are caused by a medicine reaction, they should go
away 2 to 6 weeks after the medicine is stopped.
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and
possible side effects of all treatments.
What are possible complications of erythroderma?
Possible complications include:
Can erythroderma be prevented?
Researchers don’t know how to prevent erythroderma.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if you have:
Key points about erythroderma
Erythroderma is a severe inflammation of most of the body’s
It causes redness and scaling of the skin. This starts in
patches and spreads over the body.
Erythroderma can be life-threatening.
It may be caused by a reaction to a medicine. Or it may be
caused by another skin condition or cancer.
You may have a skin biopsy. Small pieces of skin are taken
from your body and sent to a lab.
If your symptoms are severe, you may need to spend time in
the hospital. You will be treated with antibiotics, IV fluids, nutritional
supplements, and ointments for your skin.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have