Dermatitis herpetiformis, often referred to as ‘DH’, is a skin condition linked to coeliac disease.

DH affects fewer people than typical coeliac disease at around one in 10,000 people. DH can appear at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed in those aged between 15 and 40 years.

DH is rare in children.

Typical symptoms are:

  • Red, raised patches, often with blisters that burst with scratching
  • Severe itching and often stinging

The rash is seen most on the elbows, knees and buttocks, but any area of the skin can be affected. The rash is usually seen on both sides of the body, for example on both elbows.

How is DH treated?

A gluten-free diet is an essential long term part of the treatment for DH and the most long-term effective treatment.

The time it takes for the skin rash to improve varies between people. Skin symptoms tend to take longer to recover compared to typical gut symptoms associated with coeliac disease; in some cases it can take up to four years for the gluten-free diet to take effect.  People I have worked with have experienced much quicker healing from DH by eliminating other grain from their diet – including corn.

I have worked with people over the past 9 years who have experience only moderate improvement by simply removing gluten from their diet.  A good friend of mine, continued to experience terrible skin rashes, lots of pain and irritation until she removed corn from her diet as well.  She is now totally grain free by choice and no longer experiences the symptoms of DH.

Does dermatitis herpetiformis increase health risks?

The same complications occur in those with DH as in coeliac disease, which include osteoporosis, certain kinds of gut cancer and an increased risk of other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease. As in typical coeliac disease, the risk of developing these complications is reduced if the grain-free and gluten-free diet is strictly followed.