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Life-Threatening Skin Rashes (cont.)

What Are Symptoms and Signs of Life-Threatening Skin Rashes?

  • Pemphigus vulgaris (PV)
    • PV happens more commonly in adults 40-60 years of age, but it has been found in children as young as 3 years of age and in adults as old as 89 years of age.
    • PV affects both women and men equally.
    • The painful blisters found in PV are irregularly shaped, elevated skin lesions, usually more than ½ inch across.
    • The blisters can form on either normal skin.
    • Lesions usually start in the mouth and may be found on the lips, tongue, throat, and the inside of the cheeks.
    • Painful blisters in the mouth make drinking and eating difficult.
    • Blisters then spread to the head, face, and armpits before moving on to the rest of the body.
    • As they form, blisters are initially tense and filled with clear fluid.
    • If you press on the skin next to a blister, the blister will either extend or a new blister will form.
    • After two to three days, the blisters become loose, and the fluid within the blister becomes cloudy.
    • At this stage, the blisters break easily, leaving a very painful area of raw skin underneath that quickly crusts over.
    • These open sores are very susceptible to infection.
    • Because the blisters can cover a large portion of the body surface, infection can be severe and easily spread into the blood.
    • If not treated, these severe infections may lead to death.
  • Toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN)
    • TEN occurs in all age groups but is more common among people 20-40 years of age.
    • TEN affects men twice as often as women.
    • The early symptoms include fever, muscle and joint pains, generalized fatigue, and itching or burning sensations in the skin.
    • The TEN rash starts in the mucous membranes, usually of the mouth and eyes, and may involve other mucous membranes in severe cases.
    • Then the skin lesions common to TEN develop. These lesions are often called "target lesions" because they have a white, bluish, or purple center surrounded by a circle of red.
    • These lesions start as reddened spots about 1 inch around and usually appear in clusters.
    • Although the rash may start anywhere on the body, it typically involves the feet, hands, and the front of the legs and arms more frequently than the chest, abdomen, or back.
    • The rash usually occurs on both sides of the body.
    • Blisters then form in the centers of the lesions and may itch or be painful.
    • Target lesions usually appear in successive crops over the body and coalesce, forming plaques affecting large portions of the skin.
    • The appearance can be quite like a "burn."
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/20/2016

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis »

Described in 1956 by Alan Lyell, toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) is a life-threatening skin disorder that is commonly drug-induced.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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