Generalized Exfoliative Dermatitis
What is generalized exfoliative dermatitis?
Generalized exfoliative dermatitis, or erythroderma, is a severe inflammation of the
entire skin surface. This is due to a reaction to certain medicines, a pre-existing skin
condition, and sometimes cancer. In approximately 25% of people, there is no identifiable
cause. It is characterized by redness and scaling of the skin that begins in patches
and spreads. The skin begins to slough off. This leads to problems with temperature
regulation, protein and fluid loss, as well as an increased metabolic rate.
What are the symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis?
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis.
However, each individual may experience symptoms differently:
Extreme redness of the skin
Swollen lymph nodes
Secondary infections (viral or bacterial)
Loss of fluids and proteins through the damaged skin. This can lead to dehydration
and protein deficiencies
The symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions.
Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is the cause of generalized exfoliative dermatitis determined?
Diagnosis includes careful elimination of known causes, such as certain medicines
(for example, penicillin and barbiturates). In addition, your healthcare provider
may check for other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, as well as for certain
types of cancer, such as lymphoma, during a physical exam and medical history. Your
healthcare provider may also perform a skin biopsy to have a sample of your skin analyzed
in the lab.
Treatment for generalized exfoliative dermatitis
Specific treatment for generalized exfoliative dermatitis will be discussed with you
by your healthcare provider based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the reaction
Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the reaction
Your opinion or preference
Severe cases of generalized exfoliative dermatitis may need hospitalization while
the person is treated with antibiotics, intravenous (IV) fluids, and nutritional supplements.
Treatment will vary depending on the cause:
If certain medicines are causing the condition, eliminating them usually clears up
generalized exfoliative dermatitis.
If another skin condition causes generalized exfoliative dermatitis, treating the
other skin condition usually clears up the generalized exfoliative dermatitis.
If cancer is causing the condition, treating the cancer usually clears up the generalized
Other treatments may include:
Heated blankets (to keep warm)
Petroleum jelly applied to skin, followed by gauze
Systemic corticosteroids (for severe cases)
Rehydration (putting fluids back into the body)
Comprehensive wound care to prevent infection
This condition can be life-threatening and many times needs hospitalization. The outlook
(prognosis) depends on the cause. In the case of medicine reactions, the condition
usually lasts 2 to 6 weeks after the medicine is stopped.