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.
What Is 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 big patch on the chest, abdomen, thighs, or back. After a couple of weeks, it usually spreads to other areas. The rash may itch (although about half of the people who get pityriasis rosea don’t have any itching).
The rash is not contagious and when it goes away, it usually leaves no trace.
What Causes It?
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. It is more common in the spring and fall.
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.
What Are the Signs Someone Has It?
Most people who get pityriasis rosea have no symptoms before the rash appears. Some people feel tired, have a sore throat, swollen glands, or a headache a few days before the rash develops.
The rash typically starts with one large spot called a herald patch. The herald patch is usually round or oval and it may be raised and feel scaly. In people with light skin, the patch will be pink or red. In people with darker skin, there may be a variety of colors ranging from violet to brown to gray.
The herald patch may be the only sign of pityriasis rosea for the first 2 to 3 weeks. As the rash progresses, though, people who have it usually 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.
What Should You Do?
Most cases of pityriasis rosea go away in 4 to 8 weeks without any treatment. Others can last for 12 weeks or longer. 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.
To help stop itching, doctors often prescribe hydrocortisone or other 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.
Reviewed by: Anoop K. Palta, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015