Types of Lupus Rashes

For those suffering from lupus, lupus rashes are a typical symptom.  Nine out of ten people with lupus have some kind of dermatological condition.

What is lupus?

Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease, a disease in which the sufferer’s own immune system attacks itself.  Lupus typically occurs in white women between puberty and menopause.  The disease itself is difficult to control flaring up and going away at seemingly random intervals.

Butterfly Rash

The most common type of rash caused by lupus is the “butterfly rash” or “malar rash”.  It is a rash that forms across a person’s face as wing-like discolorations on the cheeks joined by a connective band of rash across the bridge the nose.  If you are familiar with the singer, Seal, then you have seen this condition before.

About half of all lupus sufferers get this characteristic rash.  It typically appears after sun exposure but may last for several weeks afterwards.  It does not itch, but the skin often takes on an unpleasant “scaly” appearance.  Sometimes other parts of the face are affected but usually it only affects the cheeks and nose with distinct borders separating affected areas from healthy skin.  Sometimes malar rash will take on a deep, almost purple hue while sometimes it is barely noticeable.  Sometimes it feels smooth and level against the skin, while at others it can be scaly or bumpy.  When the flare-up ends, the rash disappears without leaving any sign of its presence.  

Other non-lupus conditions also cause this characteristic rash, but it is most typical of lupus.

Discoid Lupus Rashes

Another form of rash typical of lupus sufferers is a discoid lupus rash.  Discoid lupus rashes occur in about one in ten lupus sufferers, but unlike regular lupus, discoid lupus is much more common in non-white women.  Discoid lupus rashes are more unpleasant as well.  They tend to take on circular “disk” shapes, to have a crusty layer and to leave scarring afterwards.  The discoid lesions tend to be harder and scaly on the outer edges and red and raw at the center, like little volcanoes. 

These discoid skin rashes are usually concentrated on the face but often occur on other parts of the body as well, especially on the scalp where they cause permanent hair loss. 

The good news for the discoid lupus sufferer is that discoid lupus is mainly a skin disorder and does not carry the other symptoms associated with the more severe kind of lupus.  Similarly, the characteristic discoid rash can occur even though lupus is not truly present.

Subcutaneous Lupus Nodules

Another rarer variation on the lupus rashes is the type of rash that occurs as hard nodules that form under the skin. 

Bullous Lupus Rash

The major kind of lupus can also present with lesions containing a transparent fluid.  These lesions typically develop in areas of the skin recently touched by sunlight.  Sometimes there is a slight sensation of excessive warmth and redness emanating from affected areas.  These lesions usually disappear after half a dozen days or so but may continue to reappear every so often without pattern or warning.

Treatment of Lupus Rashes

There are several treatment methods for lupus rashes.  A physician familiar with lupus will typically prescribe a corticosteroid cream for superficial rashes and blisters.  If the condition does not resolve, the physician will typically move to the more invasive practice of corticosteroid shots.  The physician inserts corticosteroid directly into blisters with a needle.  If, however, the affected area is too large for individual injections of corticosteroid, then your physician will prescribe oral treatments.  Sometimes the physician will attempt to outmaneuver the condition by using drugs normally given for malaria instead of corticosteroid. 

The second part of treatment involves avoiding sun exposure since photosensitivity is a major part of the skin conditions involved with lupus.  Often sunlight will further exacerbate the rashes associated with lupus.