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The skin condition named pityriasis rosea may be a bit difficult to pronounce, but it is not as serious as it sounds. This is a harmless, but common skin condition that is characterized by the appearance of a large round or oval herald (mother) patch, followed a few days or weeks later by the appearance of smaller daughter patches that are scattered in a "Christmas tree" pattern. The lesions are often found on the abdomen or trunk, but they may also be found in the chest, the back, arms, and legs. Patients may experience mild flu-like symptoms before the herald patch appears, and these include headaches, tiredness, sore throat, nausea, and loss of appetite.

Pityriasis rosea skin rashes may be mildly itchy, but in a few individuals, itching may be severe. Rashes usually last for six to eight weeks or longer, but they usually go away on their own without treatment. It is sometimes misdiagnosed as a case of eczema, ringworm, tinea versicolor, or psoriasis.

Pityriasis rosea is common among young people (ages ten to 35) and pregnant women, but it can affect anyone. It is not clear what causes pityriasis rosea, but experts believe that it is not due to a bacterial or fungal infection. It may be related to a viral infection, but there is yet no evidence on this theory. It is also not an allergic reaction or a contagious condition.

Treatment of Pityriasis Rosea

This is a self-limiting condition that goes away on its own without treatment. However, symptoms (mainly itching and rashes) can last for several weeks, and may cause discomfort. The main goal of treatment, therefore, is to relieve itching, which may be done using simple home remedies such as:

  • Applying calamine lotion or a moisturizer to damp skin to soothe itching.

  • Exposing the rashes to sunlight. However, one must avoid overexposure to avoid sunburn.

  • Keeping the itchy areas moist and cool using washcloths soaked in ice water. However, you must remember that doing this repeatedly may cause drying of your skin, which can make itching worse.

  • Avoiding hot baths or showers.

  • Taking an oatmeal bath to relieve itching. To make an oatmeal bath, wrap a cup of oatmeal in cotton cloth and boil in water. You can use this as a sponge while bathing in cool water without using soap.

  • Applying small amounts of an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream (1%) for small itchy patches.

  • Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine (chlorpheniramine maleate or diphenhydramine) to relieve itching, especially at night.

  • Wearing silk or cotton clothing and avoiding wool and acrylic fabrics.

  • Using gentle soap such as Cetaphil. Avoid using harsh deodorant soaps.

Call your doctor if symptoms are severe, or if your symptoms do not improve after three months of treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication such as a corticosteroid to reduce itching and rashes.

Although treatment is not necessary, taking antiviral drugs like acyclovir may help shorten the duration of the rash, especially when taken after the onset of the rash. In most cases, pityriasis rosea does not recur.

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