What is dermatitis herpetiformis?

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Dermatitis herpetiformis is a blistering, itchy skin rash that might cause discomfort. The itching and rash develops on the elbows, scalp, knees, buttocks and the back.

The rash possibly indicates an intolerance to gluten which might be linked to a severe underlying condition known as celiac disease. Individuals who have this condition should maintain a strict gluten-free diet.

Who are at risk?

It is important to note that celiac disease can develop to anyone but it is likely to occur among those with a family history of the disease.

Even though more women are analyzed with celiac disease, men are more likely to develop dermatitis herpetiformis. The rash typically starts in 20-30s but can start in childhood. In addition, the condition also affects those with European descent.

What are the indications of dermatitis herpetiformis?

The rash possibly indicates an intolerance to gluten which might be linked to a severe underlying condition known as celiac disease.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is considered as one of the itchiest rashes. The usual sites where the rash can manifest include:

  • Scalp
  • Elbows
  • Hairline
  • Knees
  • Buttocks
  • Lower back
  • Shoulders
  • Back of the neck

It is important to note that the rash is the same size and shape on both sides of the body and often comes and goes.

Prior to an outbreak of the rash, those in the prone areas start to itch or burn. The bumps that appear the same as pimples are filled with transparent liquid. The bumps later heal in a few days and leave behind a purple mark that lasts for weeks. Fresh bumps continue to form as the old ones heal. Take note that the process can persist for years or can go into a state of remission and recur.


Dermatitis herpetiformis is managed using the antibiotic dapsone. This is a potent medication that can cause side effects. The dosage should be slowly increased over several months before it is fully effective.

An effective approach without any side effects is maintaining a strict gluten-free diet. The individual should avoid food, beverages or medications that contain rye, wheat, oats and barley.

Even though this diet might be difficult to follow, it is highly beneficial on the health especially those with celiac disease. Reducing the intake of gluten can reduce the amount of medication needed.

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