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Generalized Exfoliative Dermatitis

What is generalized exfoliative dermatitis?

Generalized exfoliative dermatitis is a severe inflammation of the entire skin surface due to a reaction to certain drugs, or as a result of complications from another skin condition. In some cases, lymph node cancer (lymphoma) can cause generalized exfoliative dermatitis. Often, however, no cause can be found.

What are the symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Extreme redness of the skin

  • Scaling

  • Thickened skin

  • Itching

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Fever

  • Loss of fluids and proteins through the damaged skin

The symptoms of generalized exfoliative dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is the cause of generalized exfoliative dermatitis determined?

Diagnosis includes careful elimination of known causes, such as certain drugs (i.e., penicillin and barbiturates). In addition, your physician may check for other skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, as well as for lymphoma (which may be the cause of the generalized exfoliative dermatitis condition), during a physical examination and medical history.

Treatment for generalized exfoliative dermatitis

Specific treatment for generalized exfoliative dermatitis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the reaction

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the reaction

  • Your opinion or preference

Severe cases of generalized exfoliative dermatitis may require hospitalization while the person is treated with antibiotics, intravenous (IV) fluids, and nutritional supplements. Treatment will vary depending upon the cause:

  • If certain drugs are causing the condition, eliminating them usually clears up generalized exfoliative dermatitis.

  • If another skin condition causes generalized exfoliative dermatitis, treating the other skin condition usually clears up the generalized exfoliative dermatitis.

  • If lymphoma is causing the condition, treating the lymphoma usually clears up the generalized exfoliative dermatitis.

Other treatments may include:

  • Heated blankets (to keep warm)

  • Cool baths

  • Petroleum jelly applied to skin, followed by gauze

  • Systemic corticosteroids (for severe cases)

  • Rehydration (putting fluids back into the body) 

  • Comprehensive wound care to prevent infection     

This condition can be life-threatening and many times requires hospitalization. The outlook (prognosis) depends on the cause. In the case of drug reactions, the condition usually lasts two to six weeks after the drug is stopped.