Symptoms and Signs of Life-Threatening Skin Rashes

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2021

Doctor's Notes on Life-Threatening Skin Rashes

Most skin rashes are not dangerous. However, there are some potentially life-threatening serious conditions that have a skin rash as a primary sign. These conditions include pemphigus vulgaris (PV), toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN, also known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome or erythema multiforme major (EM)), drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS) syndrome, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), meningococcal infections, necrotizing fasciitis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF).

Conditions that cause life-threatening skin rashes usually have other associated symptoms and signs in addition to the skin rash. These symptoms depend on the cause of the condition and can include:

What Is the Treatment for Life-Threatening Skin Rashes?

Treatment of life-threatening skin rashes is directed at the underlying conditions. Severe bacterial infections require treatment with antibiotics, typically given intravenously. Some viral infections are treated with antiviral drugs.

In all cases of life-threatening conditions, hospitalization and supportive treatment are typically required. Supportive treatment includes intravenous fluids, oxygen or other respiratory support including mechanical ventilation, and medications to maintain adequate blood pressure. Other medications may also be given, depending on the specific cause of the condition.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.