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Introduction to Hypersensitivity and Inflammatory Skin Disorders

By

Mercedes E. Gonzalez

, MD, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Mar 2018| Content last modified Mar 2018
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Hypersensitivity and inflammatory skin disorders are caused by immune system reactions that involve the skin. (See also Drug Rashes.)

The immune system plays a vital role in maintaining the health of all the tissues of the body. The immune system reacts to invaders, such as microorganisms, foreign substances, or cancer cells, and triggers inflammation to attack these invaders. Usually the immune system reaction protects the body and aids healing. However, sometimes an immune system reaction is misdirected at healthy tissues and causes intense inflammation and damage.

Skin can be involved in a variety of immune system reactions, many of which cause rashes. The word "rash" refers to changes in skin color (such as redness), and/or texture (such as bumps or swelling). Many rashes itch, such as those that often develop after an allergic (hypersensitivity) reaction, but some rashes are painful or cause no sensations. Sometimes an immune reaction is triggered by substances a person touches or eats, but many times doctors do not know why the immune system reacts to produce a rash.

Some rashes occur mostly in children, whereas others almost always occur in adults.

The diagnosis of most hypersensitivity rashes is based on the appearance of the rash. The cause of a rash often cannot be determined by blood tests, and tests of any kind are not usually done. However, persistent rashes, particularly those that do not respond to treatment, may lead the doctor to do a skin biopsy in which a small piece of the skin affected by the rash is removed with a blade for examination under a microscope. Also, if the doctor suspects contact dermatitis is the cause, skin tests may be done.

The immune system plays a major role in many other skin disorders, including

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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