This patient information on Erythema Multiforme is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Erythema multiforme is a peculiar disorder of the skin. It can occur at any age, but it is more frequently seen in people between the ages of 5 and 50. Typically it appears as red spots on the skin and sometimes in the mouth. Occasionally these spots look like small bulls eye targets. There are typically two degrees of severity of the condition. The milder form, which is the most common, is sometimes called erythema multiforme minor. The rarer but more severe form is erythema multiforme major also known as Stevens Johnson syndrome. The Stevens Johnson form has a similar type of reaction in the skin is similar to the minor form it is just more severe and more extensive.
What causes it? Erythema multiforme is caused by hypersensitivity reaction of the blood vessels in the skin. In the minor form of erythema multiforme this is most commonly caused by the herpes virus (cold sore virus). This reaction causes leakage of the blood vessels and damage to the skin. Many other things cause erythema multiforme, but the most common causes are: viruses, other infections, medications, and underlying disease. I will have to order special tests to check for internal disease, but in many cases no cause is ever found.
Is it dangerous? For the typical healthy person erythema multiforme is usually a harmless disorder, but twenty-five percent of people with erythema multiforme will have recurrences. The rarer Steven Johnson syndrome can be very serious and may require hospitalization. The treatment plan I select for you will be individualized depending on the extent and severity of your disease.
Will it spread? Erythema multiforme can involve many areas of the skin, but it is impossible to predict the eventual degree of involvement.
Is it contagious? It is not contagious and you cannot "catch it" from anyone.