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What is Erythema Toxicum?

By B. Chisholm
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Erythema toxicum, despite its decidedly vicious-sounding name is, in fact, a benign skin rash seen in newborn babies. It is common, symptomless and non-contagious, and it generally clears within days. Although it is a harmless disease, it can be distressing for a parent, especially a first-time parent, during the first anxious days of being a mom or dad. There is no reason for a parent to panic, however, and no treatment or medication is required.

The rash is most common in babies who are carried to full term, and it presents from a couple of days after birth to two weeks after birth. It might appear within the first 48 hours of birth, but most cases occur after this. Also called erythema toxicum neonatum (ETN), it presents as small spots or bumps, blisters or, in some cases, pustules that often have a red "halo" around them. The spots might disappear within minutes or days in one spot and appear elsewhere on the body. All parts of the body might be affected, but it is seldom seen on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

The spots or blisters might appear white or pus-filled, but the fluid within them is not, in fact, pus. No virus or bacteria is found in the fluid, and the cause of erythema toxicum is unknown. Some medical hypotheses have been made about its cause, including allergy, but none of them have been conclusive.

Other than the visible rash, erythema toxicum has no other symptoms and does not seem to cause any discomfort to the baby. It requires no medical intervention and is self-limiting. Normal skin care for newborns using a mild soap, if any, and baby lotion should be followed. The rash should disappear within two weeks. Should the baby experience any other symptoms or if the rash does not disappear within a couple of weeks, a medical practitioner should be consulted immediately.

Diagnosis is simple because of the distinctive appearance of the rash. Should a parent be unsure, he or she should seek medical advice. A doctor will be able to diagnose it immediately and will inform the parent whether it is erythema toxicum.

Erythema toxicum has been described since the early Mesopotamian times, and its first medical description is attributed to the 15th century physician Bartholomaeus Metlinger. It affects 30-70 percent of newborns, irrespective of race or gender, although its incidence seems to differ according to geographical region. This might be because of a lack of scientific information from some countries.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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