(See also Overview of Dermatitis Overview of Dermatitis Dermatitis is inflammation of the upper layers of the skin, causing itching, blisters, redness, swelling, and often oozing, scabbing, and scaling. Known causes include dry skin, contact with... read more .)
Several skin disorders can result in erythroderma:
Different types of dermatitis (for example, atopic dermatitis Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) Atopic dermatitis (commonly referred to as eczema) is chronic, itchy inflammation of the upper layers of the skin that often develops in people who have hay fever or asthma and in people who... read more , allergic contact dermatitis Allergic contact dermatitis Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation caused by direct contact with a particular substance. The rash may be itchy, is confined to a specific area, and often has clearly defined boundaries... read more , seborrheic dermatitis Seborrheic Dermatitis Seborrheic dermatitis is chronic inflammation that causes yellow, greasy scales and dandruff to form on areas of the skin that have a high number of oil glands such as the scalp and face, along... read more )
Erythroderma can develop in people who have skin disorders, such as those listed above, but it can also develop spontaneously in people who have no history of a skin disorder.
An older term for erythroderma is exfoliative dermatitis. This term is rarely used now.
Erythroderma may start rapidly or slowly. At first the entire skin surface becomes red and shiny. It may then become scaly, thickened, and sometimes crusted. The skin is often itchy and may be painful.
Although many people have a fever, they may feel cold and have chills because so much heat is lost through the inflamed skin.
Doctors base the diagnosis of erythroderma on the person's history and the results of a physical examination.
A skin biopsy Biopsy Doctors can identify many skin disorders simply by looking at the skin. A full skin examination includes examination of the scalp, nails, and mucous membranes. Sometimes the doctor uses a hand-held... read more is sometimes done, but even that may not confirm the diagnosis. Determining the cause of erythroderma may require many tests, directed at what the cause is suspected to be.
Early diagnosis and supportive treatment of erythroderma are important in preventing infection from developing in the affected skin and in keeping fluid and protein loss from becoming life threatening.
People with erythroderma often need to be hospitalized and given antibiotics (for infection), fluids and salts (to replace those lost through the skin) by vein (intravenously), and nutritional supplements. Care may include the use of drugs and heated blankets to control body temperature. Moisturizing agents (emollients) may help soothe the skin.
Corticosteroids applied to the skin (such as hydrocortisone ointment) are often given. Corticosteroids given by mouth (such as prednisone) are often given to people who have severe erythroderma.
Ultimately, the treatment of erythroderma depends on the specific cause. For example, if the erythroderma is caused by a drug reaction, people should stop taking that drug. If erythroderma is a manifestation of a skin lymphoma, people should undergo treatment for the lymphoma.
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