What is erythema multiforme?

Erythema Multiforme
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Erythema multiforme in children: Overview

Erythema multiforme (say "air-uh-THEE-muh mul-tuh-FOR-mee") is a rash that often causes red spots. These spots can look like targets, with a darker area in the center.

In most cases, doctors know the rash when they see it. But sometimes blood tests or testing a tissue sample (biopsy) can confirm what type of rash it is. Or these tests can help rule out other problems.

This skin condition is usually found on the hands, feet, arms, or legs. But it can affect any part of the body. This includes the mouth, the eyes, and the genitals. Sometimes the rash itches or burns. Some children have a fever or feel a little sick.

Doctors don't always know what causes erythema multiforme. But the rash may be related to an infection, a medicine, or another health problem.

In most cases, the rash goes away on its own in a few weeks. In some people, the rash returns. Treatment can include medicines for itching and mouth pain.

How can you care for your child who has erythema multiforme?

  • For itching:
    • Put a cool, moist cloth on the rash.
    • Try an over-the-counter antihistamine. Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've checked with the doctor first. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your child is having pain from mouth sores and is old enough to use a mouthwash, have your child rinse their mouth regularly with an over-the-counter mouthwash for mouth sores.
  • If your doctor prescribed medicine, have your child take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.

Erythema multiforme in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a new rash that affects the eyes, mouth, or genitals.
  • Your child has a fever or chills.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's rash is changing or getting worse.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.