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Erythema multiforme is a skin condition often associated with an overreaction to an infection (usually herpes simplex) or medication. It can affect skin throughout the body. Erythema multiforme has two forms:
Erythema multiforme is an overreaction of the immune system to a certain trigger. Some erythema multiforme is associated with an infection or certain medications, though the exact trigger may not be known half the time. It is not clear why some people have this reaction.
Erythema multiforme is more common in young adults.
Factors that may increase your chance of getting erythema multiforme include:
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Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Both erythema multiforme minor and major cause skin lesions that:
Erythema multiforme major may also cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a dermatologist.
Most cases can be diagnosed based on your medical history and skin exam. The target lesions are usually a key for diagnosis. However, the skin lesions may not be typical and a sample of the skin may be taken. The skin sample is examined under a microscope to look for findings of erythema multiforme.
Erythema multiforme will usually go away on its own in 4-6 weeks. Mild forms usually will not need treatment.
Treatment may be needed to treat an underlying infection. This may include antiviral, antibiotic, or antifungal medications. If the erythema multiforme is related to a current medication, your doctor will work with you to stop the medication and find a replacement if needed.
Severe lesion due to erythema multiforme major may also require:
Moist compresses and medications may help relieve discomfort from lesions. Medication options may include:
If the lesions were due to the herpes simplex virus, there are ways to prevent outbreaks:
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Erythema multiforme. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114477/Erythema-multiforme. Updated March 20, 2016. Accessed August 17, 2017.
Erythema multiforme. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/erythema-multiforme. Updated October 2015. Accessed August 17, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 8/7/2015