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What is Erythroderma?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Erythroderma, also known as exfoliative dermatitis, is a skin condition characterized by reddening of the skin. Often, it is accompanied by scaling and exfoliation, which can become a serious problem for the patient. This condition can occur for a number of reasons, and it is important to identify the cause when developing an approach to treatment. A patient may need to be hospitalized for treatment if erythroderma is especially severe.

One of the most common causes for erythroderma is an underlying skin disease such as psoriasis or eczema which becomes exacerbated. It can also occur as an extreme drug reaction, or as a complication of another medical condition, such as graft versus host disease. The condition starts with a reddening of the skin which can become quite extreme. As the reddening spreads, the skin can start to become scaly, and may begin to slough off.

Losing skin is not just uncomfortable for the patient. The skin is a very important organ which helps the body regulate temperature and fluid levels, while providing protection from infectious agents. If patients lose enough skin, they may lose the ability to regulate their own temperature and fluid levels, and they can develop extremely dangerous infections. For this reason, erythroderma is viewed as a cause of major concern; even in cases where a patient has a very light case, a doctor will monitor the patient closely for signs of complications.

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If erythroderma becomes severe, the patient will be hospitalized for care. Care includes maintaining moisture with dressings, monitoring and regulating fluid levels, and regulating body temperature to keep the patient from getting too hot or too cold. Antibiotics may also be given to prevent infection. Care must be taken around the patient to avoid introducing sources of infection, with care providers gowning and masking to protect the patient when they need to enter the patient's room.

Sometimes, erythroderma has no apparent cause, and may be known as “red man syndrome” in these cases. Mortality rates for people with this condition vary, depending primarily on the cause and the severity. Some patients with erythroderma die because of their underlying medical problems, not because of the skin condition, which can complicate statistics keeping. Care for patients with this condition is usually supervised by a dermatologist, and in the case of hospitalized patients, skilled nurses who have experience working with people with massive skin loss such as burn victims will provide care which is designed to keep the patient as stable as possible.

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