One morning Shauna woke up with a large patch of pink, raised skin near her stomach. It didn't really bother her, so she didn't say anything about it. She hoped the rash would go away in a few days. But 2 weeks later it was still there, and a bunch of other small, scaly spots had broken out across her chest and abdomen. So she told her mom about it.
Shauna and her mom went to see her doctor. He examined Shauna and told her she had a skin rash called pityriasis rosea.
Pityriasis rosea is a temporary skin condition that's common in teens and young adults. It's a pink or gray, scaly skin rash that can last for 4 to 8 weeks, and sometimes months. The rash usually starts with one patch on the chest, abdomen, thighs, or back. After a couple of weeks, it often spreads to other areas. The rash may itch (although about half of the people who get pityriasis rosea don't notice any itching).
Pityriasis rosea almost always goes away on its own within a couple of months, though it can take longer. Other than creams or lotions to relieve itching, there isn't any treatment.
The pityriasis rosea rash is not contagious (meaning it can't be spread to other people). When it goes away, it usually leaves no trace. Best of all, people who've had pityriasis rosea will probably never get it again.
Medical experts aren't really sure what causes pityriasis rosea. Some suspect that it's caused by a virus, but scientists have yet to prove that.
People ages 10-35 and pregnant women are more likely to get pityriasis rosea, but it can happen at any age and to people of all skin colors. It is more common in the spring and fall.
Most people who get pityriasis rosea have no symptoms before the rash appears. A few notice they feel achy, tired, or have a sore throat, stuffy nose, or headache a few days before the rash develops. It might almost feel as if they are getting the flu.
The rash itself typically starts with one large spot called a herald patch. This herald patch usually appears on the skin of the chest, abdomen, thighs, or back. It may be raised and feel scaly. In people with light skin, the patch will be pink or red. People with darker skin can see a variety of colors, from violet to brown to gray.
The herald patch may be the only sign of pityriasis rosea for 1 to 3 weeks. As the rash progresses, though, people who have it typically get many smaller spots across the torso and on the arms and legs. (Most people don't get pityriasis rosea on the scalp, palms, or soles.) These smaller patches are usually oval shaped and often form a pattern on the back that looks like a Christmas tree.
The rash may get itchier or more obvious when a person's body is warm, like after exercising. People with darker skin tones may have long-lasting dark spots on the skin after the rash has gone. These do eventually fade, though.
If you're worried about a rash on your skin that doesn't go away after a few weeks, make an appointment to see your doctor or nurse practitioner. He or she will ask questions about your overall health and examine the rash.
Most cases of pityriasis rosea go away in 4 to 8 weeks without any treatment. Others can last for 12 weeks or longer.
To help stop itching, doctors often prescribe special creams or ointments. Oatmeal baths can relieve itching. Some people also find it helps to take over-the-counter allergy syrups.
In severe cases doctors recommend light therapy for pityriasis rosea. This can be done through a process called ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy available at a dermatologist's office. Sometimes just getting a moderate amount of sunlight can help treat the rash. Watch out for sunburn, though. Your skin may be sensitive, and sunburn can make the rash worse, not better.
Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: July 2011
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