Epidermolysis bullosa

Epidermolysis bullosa (ep-ih-dur-MOL-uh-sis buhl-LOE-sah) is a group of rare diseases that cause the skin to blister. The blisters may appear in response to minor injury, heat, or friction from rubbing, scratching or adhesive tape. In severe cases, the blisters may occur inside the body, such as the lining of the mouth or intestines.

Most types of epidermolysis bullosa are inherited. The condition usually shows up in infancy or early childhood. Some people don't develop signs and symptoms until adolescence or early adulthood.

Epidermolysis bullosa has no cure, though mild forms may improve with age. Treatment focuses on addressing the symptoms — such as infection and itching — and preventing pain and wounds. Severe forms may cause serious complications and can be fatal.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Epidermolysis bullosa signs and symptoms include:

  • Fluid-filled blisters on the skin, especially on the hands and feet due to friction
  • Deformity or loss of fingernails and toenails
  • Internal blistering, including on the vocal cords, esophagus and upper airway
  • Skin thickening on the palms and the soles of the feet
  • Scalp blistering, scarring and hair loss (scarring alopecia)
  • Thin-appearing skin (atrophic scarring)
  • Tiny white skin bumps or pimples (milia)
  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay from poorly formed enamel
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

Epidermolysis bullosa blisters may not appear until a toddler first begins to walk or until an older child begins new physical activities that trigger more intense friction on the feet.

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if you or your child develops blisters, particularly if you don't know the reason for them.

Seek immediate medical care if you or your child:

  • Has problems swallowing
  • Has problems breathing
  • Shows signs of infection, such as warm, red, painful or swollen skin, pus or a foul odor from a sore, and fever or chills

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