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Erythema Multiforme


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jan 2021| Content last modified Jan 2021
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What is erythema multiforme?

"Erythema" means red-colored. "Multiforme" means different forms.

Erythema multiforme is a skin disorder that causes patches of red, raised skin.

  • You get red patches that suddenly appear on your palms, soles, arms, legs, and face, and may later spread to the rest of your body

  • The patches sometimes look like targets

  • You may also get mouth sores

  • You usually get better within 2 to 4 weeks

  • Doctors may have you use medicine to stop the itching

  • If you get erythema multiforme a lot, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine for you

What causes erythema multiforme?

Erythema multiforme is usually caused by a reaction to:

Erythema multiforme less often is caused by other infections or certain medicine or vaccines.

What are the symptoms of erythema multiforme?

Symptoms include:

  • Red bumps on your palms, soles, arms, legs, and face that grow into circles that may look like targets

  • Red patches that have pale rings inside the patch, and purple centers with small blisters ("target" lesions)

  • Usually, itchiness

  • Painful blisters or sores on your lips and lining of your mouth

Rash may go away on its own after several weeks but may keep coming back.

How can doctors tell if I have erythema multiforme?

Doctors can tell you have erythema multiforme by looking at the rash. They may watch you carefully to make sure it isn't a more serious condition that can look similar.

How do doctors treat erythema multiforme?

Erythema multiforme gets better without treatment. If your symptoms bother you, doctors may treat you with:

  • Creams for itching

  • Numbing medicine for mouth blisters if they cause eating and drinking problems

  • Sometimes, antiviral medicine if you keep getting erythema multiforme, or if your doctors think your erythema multiforme is caused by herpes

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