Dermatitis Herpetiformis: What is it? Causes and Treatment


Dermatitis Herpetiformis: What is it?

Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a chronic skin condition that causes the skin to blister and appear red. Even though it might look like Herpes, it has no relation to the Herpes virus. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is an autoimmune disorder that keeps your body from digesting gluten, which you find in food items such as wheat and rice(1).

So mostly it’s seen as an allergy that people have towards gluten as it cannot be digested in their body, which causes a manifestation of these blisters on the skin(2). It can be itchy and look like a rash; it is also a chronic skin condition, which means it’ll probably be there throughout life.

This skin condition is linked to the coeliac disease, this disease affects the small intestine and is caused due to the reaction towards gluten. The immune system reacts and sends out a chemical substance called IgA. This chemical is supposed to ease your allergic reaction. However, it builds up in your blood vessels and causes it to manifest into rashes on your skin.

The first signs you’ll notice is the burning sensation on your skin along with rashes that look sore. They will also be itchy and have a stinging sensation on your abdomen. These sores also contain a watery fluid in them.

Usually, these blisters show up on your shoulder blades, back, feet, hands, elbows, and they cover both sides of your body. In some cases, it’s also found near your groin, which could cause a lot of discomfort and can be increasingly painful.

In order to diagnose this condition, your doctor will probably do a biopsy. The lab technicians will check for elevated levels of IgA in your bloodstream, to diagnose you with Dermatitis Herpetiformis.

Since this is an allergic reaction to gluten, it’ll eventually ease out and go away in about 1-2 weeks at the maximum. The rashes don’t stay lifelong, however, the condition will remain because this means that your system is always going to react the same way whenever you take gluten. And since gluten is found in staple foods such as rice and wheat, it can be difficult to completely avoid.

Also read: Contact Deramatitis (Allergic reaction): Tips and Treatments

As this is an allergic reaction due to an autoimmune condition, there is no cure for it. Your body will continue to be allergic to gluten and react the same way. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is likely to affect people who have someone in the family with the same condition.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis is treated by oral or topical prescription of an antibiotic called Dapsone(3). Dapsone is administered along with a gluten-free diet for patients with this condition. Although, it is a strong medication with a significant amount of side effects(4).

Also read: Atopic Dermatitis: What is it? Causes and Treatment

These side effects may include:

  • Liver damage
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness

Anemia and Muscle weakness can also be a side effect of having a completely gluten-free diet, as this contains protein and carbohydrates that provide energy for the functions of the body. Thus, Dermatitis Herpetiformis can result in other conditions such as Vitamin deficiencies and anemia because to avoid an allergic reaction, you’ll have to stay away from the allergens, which in this case is gluten.

That also means you’ll have to stay away from foods such as Rice, Oats, Barley, Wheat, and Rye. Those who consume this can be at a higher risk of intestinal cancer only because of the constant inflammation these cause to the intestines. With the right diet and medication, however, it can be kept under control.

How does dermatitis herpetiformis start?

It starts due to the coeliac disease which affects the intestines, which happens when there is an inability to digest gluten.

How long does dermatitis herpetiformis last?

It is a lifelong condition. The rashes, on the other hand, can last for up to 1-2 weeks

How to treat dermatitis herpetiformis?

Dapsone, an antibiotic, along with a gluten-free diet is used to treat this condition.

Is dermatitis herpetiformis caused by Herpes?

No, the appearance is similar to what herpes looks like, however, it’s not caused by herpes.

Showing signs of having dermatitis herpetiformis? Don’t ignore it! Download the CureSkin App now by clicking here to get the best treatment. It’s easy, fast and affordable!



Picture of Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.