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What is Erythema Multiforme

Erythema multiforme is a skin condition that can cause red, circular patches on the skin, sometimes with blisters or ulcers. It can be triggered by infections, medications, or other factorsIt’s usually mild and goes away in a few weeks, but there’s also a rare, severe form that can affect the mouth, genitals and eyes and can be life-threatening.


What are the signs and symptoms of Erythema Multiforme

Some of the signs and symptoms of erythema multiforme are:

  • A red to purple rash that causes your skin to puff up (swell) and be painful to the touch.
  • Pimple-like blisters on your skin or inside of your mouth.
  • Round mark on your skin that looks like a bulls-eye on a target, with a dark center that may have a blister or crust, surrounded by a pale pink ring and a darker outermost ring. This is also called a target lesion.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Headache, fever, feeling unwell, joint pain, eye sensitivity, blurred vision, sore eyes and red eyes. These symptoms are more common in the severe form of erythema multiforme.

What are the causes of Erythema Multiforme


Most cases are caused by a viral infection – often the herpes simplex (cold sore) virus. This virus usually lies inactive in the body, but it can become reactivated from time to time. Some people will get a cold sore a few days before the rash starts. Erythema multiforme can also be triggered by mycoplasma bacteria, a type of bacteria that sometimes cause chest infections.


Some medicines can occasionally cause the more severe form of erythema multiforme. Possible medicine triggers include:

  • antibiotics, such as sulfonamides, tetracyclines, amoxicillin and ampicillin
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • anticonvulsants (used to treat epilepsy), such as phenytoin and barbiturates

What treatments are available at the dermatologist for Erythema Multiforme

The treatments for erythema multiforme depend on the severity and the cause of the condition. Some possible treatments that a dermatologist can offer are:

  • Topical steroids or antihistamines for itching.
  • Stopping a medication that causes erythema multiforme.
  • Oral acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir for recurrent erythema multiforme associated with the herpes simplex virus.

FAQ About Erythema multiforme

How is erythema multiforme diagnosed and treated?

EM is usually diagnosed by looking at the rash and asking about the possible triggers, such as infections or medications. EM is usually treated by stopping the trigger, if possible, and managing the symptoms.

How long does erythema multiforme last?

Erythema multiforme usually lasts for two to four weeks, but it may recur in some people who have recurrent infections or exposure to medications

Is there a dermatologist near me in Virginia Beach that offers treatment for erythema multiforme?

Yes. At our Virginia Beach dermatology office we offer treatment for erythema multiforme to patients from Virginia Beach and the surrounding area. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.