Celiac disease is a digestive disease where the small intestine is unable to digest food due to a hypersensitivity to gluten. The disease systems may disappear when the patient is placed on a strict gluten-free diet.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The presence of Celiac disease leads to Dermatitis Herpetiformis in 15-25 percent of patients. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is an itching, burning rash that occurs Bilaterally around the knees, elbows and on the buttocks. DH, as it is referred to in medical circles, presents as small bumps or blisters.
Due to the high intensity of itchiness, patients literally dig at their skin. The result can be secondary infections due to the open blisters. Many times people do not realize that they have Celiac disease and assume that they are suffering from an allergic reaction, poison oak, or other itchy, painful skin conditions. What is occurring is not specifically an allergic reaction as much as it is an immune response to the presence of an antibody due to Celiac disease.
Signs & Symptoms of Dermatitis Herpetiformis
The two primary ways to test for Dermatitis Herpetiformis are through a skin biopsy and a specialized blood test. The two-pronged approach can eliminate the need for more detailed biopsies. Pathologists look for the presence of immunoglobulin A, which is produced by our bodies when we suffer from Celiac disease.
Dermatitis Herpetiformis vs. Shingles
The key here is that DH is bilateral. If it occurs behind one knee, it occurs behind the other. Shingles are usually unilateral and occur on one side of the body but not the other.
If you are a patient who suffers from eczema, consider asking your doctor to do a blood test for DH. Another consideration is to monitor how the disease presents itself. If it is always around the knees, elbows or on the buttocks, then it may well be DH. Understanding how the symptoms of DH manifest themselves helps to eliminate other similar diseases such as shingles and eczema.
Treatment of Dermatitis Herpetiformis
Treatment for DH begins by treating the Celiac disease. That involves a strict gluten free diet. Antibiotic treatment includes dapsone. While the antibiotic treatment seems to work quickly, patient may experience ongoing symptoms and reoccurrence of HD for as many as two years. It takes a while for the change in diet to fully overcome Celiac disease.