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What Causes Erythema Multiforme and How Is It Treated?

What is Erythema Multiforme?

Erythema Multiforme is an immune disorder which affects the skin. This condition is mostly triggered by certain infections or medications. Erythema Multiforme is generally acute in onset with recurrent symptoms despite treatment. The primary presenting feature of Erythema Multiforme includes popular and necrotic lesions. Herpes Simplex virus is believed to be the primary cause of Erythema Multiforme. Mycoplasma pneumoniae is yet another common cause of this condition. There are various other infections as well which can cause Erythema Multiforme.[1]

Some studies suggest the role of vaccinations in the development of Erythema Multiforme in rare cases. There is no ethnic prevalence in cases of Erythema Multiforme and this condition can occur in people of any age. However, it is more common in young adults between the age ranges of 20 and 30. Young children also at times get this infection.

Another data suggested by research done on this condition suggests that males tend to get this more than females.[1]

People with Steven-Johnson Syndrome are generally at increased risk for developing Erythema Multiforme. This article details the various causes and treatment options for this condition.[1]

What Causes Erythema Multiforme?

As stated, bacterial and viral infections are the primary reasons of Erythema Multiforme. In some cases, medications can also cause this condition. Some of the common causes of Erythema Multiforme include[2]

Herpes Simplex Virus: Studies suggest that this virus is involved in more than 70% of recurrent cases of Erythema Multiforme. Although both HSV-1 and 2 both can cause Erythema Multiforme but majority of the cases are caused by HSV-1. The characteristic symptom of Erythema Multiforme develops about a week after the virus becomes active. In some cases, even though the virus stays dormant an individual can still develop symptoms of Erythema Multiforme but this is again quite rare.[1]

Mycoplasma Pneumonia: This is an extremely contagious infection which primarily affects the respiratory system of the body. It is caused by the bacteria mycoplasma pneumoniae. This is seen mostly in children with about 10% of cases of Erythema Multiforme being caused due to the bacteria. Immediate treatment is required if this bacterial infection is believed to be the cause of Erythema Multiforme.[1]

Infectious Diseases: There are also certain other infectious diseases which often at times cause Erythema Multiforme. These diseases include adenovirus, influenza, hepatitis, Epstein-Barr infection, and HIV. The bacterial infections that also cause Erythema Multiforme include tuberculosis and streptococcus bacteria.[1]

Medications: This is a rare cause for Erythema Multiforme. The classes of medications that cause this condition include Viagra, barbiturates normally prescribed for anxiety disorder, NSAIDs, penicillin, and sulfonamides.[1]

Treatment of Erythema Multiforme

Coming to the treatment of Erythema Multiforme, mild cases resolve spontaneously without any formal treatment required. However, if symptoms persist for a longer period of time then topical steroids may have to be used as directed by the physician for relief of symptoms. Since the lesions caused by this condition can be extremely painful, the affected individual will need pain medications for relief.[2]

Additionally, some lesions may start oozing and in such cases they will have to be covered with bandages to allow the lesions to heal. If the oozing does not stop and the infection worsens then the patient will require intravenous fluids with an inpatient stay at the hospital for effective treatment of the severe lesions caused by Erythema Multiforme.[2]

Antivirals are prescribed for cases where HSV is believed to be the cause of Erythema Multiforme. Acyclovir is the most preferred medication used for this purpose. This medication is extremely effective for recurrent cases of Erythema Multiforme. Antibiotic treatment is given for cases where bacterial infection such as mycoplasma pneumoniae is responsible for causing Erythema Multiforme. Tetracycline and azithromycin are the most preferred medication used for treating Erythema Multiforme.[2]

In conclusion, Erythema Multiforme quite an uncommon skin disorder that normally develops as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. In rare instances it can also be caused as a result of taking some medications. In mild cases of Erythema Multiforme, there is no treatment required and the lesions resolve spontaneously within a span of about a month.[2]

However, in severe cases depending on the cause the physician will formulate a treatment plan. This may consist of antivirals, topical steroids, or antibiotics. In severe cases of Erythema Multiforme, the patient may need hospitalization for aggressive treatment and wound management and pain medications.[2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 4, 2022

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