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Pityriasis rosea

Definition

Pityriasis rosea is a common type of skin rash seen in young adults.

Alternative Names

Rash - pityriasis rosea; Papulosquamous - pityriasis rosea

Causes

Pityriasis rosea is believed to be caused by a virus. It occurs most often in the fall and spring.

Although pityriasis rosea may occur in more than one person in a household at a time, it is not thought to spread from one person to another.

Symptoms

Attacks most often last 4 to 8 weeks. Symptoms may disappear by 3 weeks or last as long as 12 weeks.

The rash starts with a single large patch called a herald patch. After several days, more skin rashes will appear on the chest, back, arms, and legs.

The skin rashes:

  • Are often pink or pale red
  • Are oval in shape
  • May be scaly
  • May follow lines in the skin or appear in a "Christmas tree" pattern
  • May itch

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can often diagnose pityriasis rosea by the way the rash looks.

In rare cases, the following tests are needed:

  • A blood test to be sure it is not a form of syphilis, which can cause a similar rash
  • A skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis

Treatment

If symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment.

Your provider may suggest gentle bathing, mild lubricants or creams, or mild hydrocortisone creams to soothe your skin.

Antihistamines taken by mouth may be used to reduce itching. You can buy antihistamines at the store without a prescription.

Moderate sun exposure or ultraviolet (UV) light treatment may help make the rash go away more quickly. However, you must be careful to avoid sunburn.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Pityriasis rosea often goes away within 6 to 12 weeks. It usually doesn't come back.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if you have symptoms of pityriasis rosea.

References

Habif TP. Psoriasis and other papulosquamous diseases. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 8.

Muncaster AE. Pityriasis rosea. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014:chap 186.


Review Date: 12/10/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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