Pityriasis Rosea Overview

Painful and itching skin condition.
Skin Problems Image Gallery Pityriasis Rosea is a painful and itching skin condition that resembles ringworm. See more pictures of skin problems.
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One day, you start to feel an uncomfortable itch. After asking a family member to take a look at a rough spot on your back that's been making you scratch, they distressingly suggest that you might have ringworm.

But don't worry yet -- it's not be time to panic if you do have ringworm. That's easily treated. Rough, circular rashes can be the sign of a number of conditions, including eczema, psoriasis and ringworm. Doctors can tell the difference best, so you need to seek out a professional opinion before jumping to any conclusions. In this particular case, your doctor makes an unexpected diagnosis and tells you that you have pityriasis rosea.


This is good news -- unlike ringworm, and condition isn't contagious, since pityriasis rosea isn't a fungus. There's no need worry about passing along that scaly itch to loved ones. But there's still much more to learn about this condition, including what it is and, perhaps most importantly, how to tame that irritating itch.

Pityriasis rosea is a skin rash that starts off as a single, circular patch of dry, flaky skin. The first spot is termed the "herald" or "mother" patch, and it usually will show up on the back, chest, upper arms or thighs [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Over the next week or two, more pink spots will emerge. These spots are usually limited to the torso, neck, arms and legs. On the back, red patches might radiate in a sweeping, downward fashion, resembling the shape of a Christmas tree. These areas of skin may or may not itch, but heat and exercise can make the rash become more pronounced.

Before you give up your daily workout or slather on over-the-counter creams and lotions to find relief, read on to find out about the causes and treatments for pityriasis rosea.


Causes of Pityriasis Rosea

After receiving a diagnosis from a doctor, the next thing you might wonder is how you ended up with this condition. Did you touch something that irritated your skin? Do you have an allergy to a certain type of food? Are you coming down with some kind of virus?

Narrowing down your diagnosis to pityriasis rosea might be easier than finding out what exactly caused it. Pityriasis rosea is not a result of a fungus or bacterial infection, so over-the-counter anti-fungal creams and prescription medications won't bring you relief. Likewise, because pityriasis rosea is not a bacterial infection, antibiotics will have no effect. Right now, not even the best doctor and his prescription pad can make an outbreak of pityriasis go away.


Since pityriasis rosea can range from mildly itchy to severe, some people who get it think they're having an allergic reaction. The connection may make sense -- with rashes sprouting up all over on the body, the condition may remind people of a previous allergy discovery. But specialists have yet to determine whether or not touching something or ingesting a certain kind of food can cause pityriasis rosea.

Some experts have suggested that pityriasis rosea is caused by a virus. Specifically, human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and 7 (HHV-7) may play a small part in pityriasis rosea [source: Schwartz]. But no one has ever found any evidence of a viral infection, such as genetic material, and patients have never reported any symptoms, such as fevers, associated with the condition. Doctors have noted, however, that the use of certain drugs, including barbituates, may induce pityriasis rosea, and people with other skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, acne or dandruff, tend to have a better chance of getting it, too.

While you might not be able to pinpoint a cause of your pityriasis roasea, you can still treat the symptoms if you are uncomfortable. Read on to find out what you can do to deal with this itchy condition.


Pityriasis Rosea Treatments

The doctor has confirmed that you have a case of pityriasis rosea. Most conditions disappear in about four to eight weeks, and specialists rarely instruct patients to take any medication. There's no way to speed up the healing process, so your only directions will be to sit back and wait for the rashes to go away. You can still find a way to get some relief from all of that itching, however.

Medications such as hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion can help decrease the itching. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines like Benadryl might provide relief for those who are old enough to take them. As with any over-the-counter medication, check with a doctor for safety precautions in younger children, older adults, or if you are talking other medication. If the itching is still too intense, your doctor might prescribe an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid. Don't hesitate to talk to a doctor about the situation.


Other home remedies include avoiding hot baths and taking lukewarm showers. You might try buying an oatmeal bath treatment or making your own oatmeal bath just like people do for chicken pox, poison ivy and poison oak relief. When drying off from a shower, be sure to pat the skin lightly, and apply a moisturizer so the skin doesn't dry out further. Dry skin will only intensify the itching. Lastly, pack away those wool and synthetic fiber clothes, which may make your rash itch more. Opt instead for cotton or silk choices to pamper your skin until the rash clears up.

Pityriasis rosea might have taken you by surprise, but thankfully this skin condition shall soon pass. Until that pesky rash clears up, you can learn more about pityriasis rosea by clicking the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Pityriasis Rosea." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_pityriasis.html
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Pityriasis Rosea." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/pityriasis_rosea.html
  • Lichenstein, Richard. "Pityriasis Rosea." eMedicine. (Aug. 16, 2009) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/762725-overview
  • Mayo Clinic. "Pityriasis Rosea." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pityriasis-rosea/DS00720
  • Medline Plus. "Pityriasis Rosea." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/MEDLINEPLUS/ency/article/000871.htm
  • Merck. "Pityriasis Rosea." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch116/ch116d.html
  • Schwartz, Robert. "Human Herpesvirus 6." eMedicine. (Aug. 16, 2009)http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1134049-overview
  • WebMD. "Pityriasis Rosea - Topic Overview." (Aug. 16, 2009) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/pityriasis-rosea-topic-overview