How to Recognize Pityriasis Rosea

Pityriasis rosea is a common rash. It usually begins as a round or oval-shaped patch and spreads in a characteristic pattern. It typically occurs in people between 10 and 35 years of age, lasts six to eight weeks, and resolves on its own. The cause is unknown.

This article includes photos of the phases and characteristics of pityriasis rosea. It also discusses potential treatment options.

1

Herald Patch

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

A herald patch of pityrias rosea

James Heilman, MD / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pityriasis rosea is an itchy rash that begins with a herald patch. The herald patch is a single 2 to 10cm round or oval-shaped lesion. It looks like ​ringworm and usually appears on the torso.

Within a few days, smaller lesions appear. The smaller lesions are usually on the torso or wherever the herald patch is located. They can also spread to the arms, legs, and face. The lesions can continue to spread for several weeks.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Photo of a Herald Patch

Joe Miller

This is another example of a herald patch. A full rash usually develops within a few days or several weeks of its appearance.

The appearance of the rash and its striking resemblance to ringworm can be concerning. However, it's a non-threatening skin condition that resolves on its own.

2

Typical Rash

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Typical pityriasis rosea full fash

Joe Miller

This is what pityriasis rosea looks like when the full rash has broken out. Lesions start to appear around the herald patch. They can spread to the arms, legs, and face. The lesions tend to be oval-shaped with thin, tissue-like scales. They can be itchy.

On light skin the lesions are salmon-colored and can be hard to see. On dark skin they can be very dark, even black.

In most cases, a pityriasis rosea outbreak will clear up in six to eight weeks. Occasionally it can last for up to five months or more.

3

Torso

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Rash on a person's trunk

Joe Miller

Pityriasis rosea most often takes hold on the torso. Some patients have a fever, fatigue, headache, and sore throat before the rash appears.

Studies have tried to find a viral or bacterial cause of pityriasis rosea. So far, these studies have been inconclusive and the cause is still unknown.

Pityriasis rosea tends to occur most often in the colder months. It affects all ethnicities equally. Only 2.8% to 3.7% of those who have had the condition will have a recurrence.

Recap

Typical pityriasis rosea lesions appear around the herald patch and spread to the limbs. Some patients may have a fever and other symptoms before the rash appears.

4

Atypical Rash - Generalized

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Atypical Pityriasis Rosea Rash

Gavin Hart / CDC

Most of the time, pityriasis rosea rashes look typical. An atypical rash like the one above, however, is not uncommon. The lesions in this photo are not as distinct. Instead, they are more generalized over the area.

The rash can be more papular, or bumpy, in certain people, including:

  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • People with darker skin tones

Infants sometimes get blisters and raised wheals. Oral lesions can happen, too, and in some cases, the rash covers the entire body.

5

Atypical Rash - Raised

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Generalized pityriasis rosea rash

Joe Miller

This is an atypical pityriasis rosea rash on the upper back. Normally there are fewer lesions that are more spread out over the torso. These solid, raised lesions cover a lot of area and are very close together.

An atypical rash is often misdiagnosed as ringworm, psoriasis, or eczema.

If the rash can't be diagnosed based on appearance, a potassium hydroxide (KOH) test will be done.

6

Pityriasis Rosea on the Neck

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

pityriasis rosea rash on the neck

Joe Miller

Pityriasis rosea appears mostly on the torso, but it's not uncommon for it to spread around the body. It may appear on the arms, neck and even the scalp. The rash rarely spreads to the face.

It's unknown whether pityriasis rosea is contagious and there is no cure. The condition runs its course and usually clears up after six to eight weeks.

Your dermatologist may prescribe an oral antihistamine or topical steroids to help with itching. Few studies have looked at treatment options, but there are few theories about things that may shorten the rash's course. This includes:

  • Concentrated doses of erythromycin, an antibiotic used to treat acne
  • Sun exposure
  • UVB therapy, where the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light

Summary

Pityriasis rosea is a very common skin condition. It begins with a round or oval shaped herald patch and spreads outwards over the course of a few weeks. No one knows what causes it and there is no cure, but it is not dangerous and resolves on its own.

Pityriasis rosea can be itchy. Your doctor may prescribe oral antihistamines or a topical steroid to help with this symptom. According to some theories, you may also be able to shorten the course of the rash by spending time in the sun.

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7 Sources
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