Bullous pemphigoid is an acute or chronic autoimmune skin disease, involving the formation of blisters, more appropriately known as bullae, at the space between the skin layers epidermis and dermis. It is classified as a type II hypersensitivity reaction, with the formation of anti-hemidesmosome antibodies.
Clinically, the earliest lesions may appear urticarial (like hives). Tense bullae eventually erupt, most commonly at the inner thighs and upper arms, but the trunk and extremities are frequently both involved. Any part of the skin surface can be involved. Oral lesions are present in a minority of cases.The disease may be acute, but typically will wax and wane. Several other skin diseases may have similar symptoms. However, milia are more common with epidermolysis bullosa acquisita, because of the deeper antigenic targets. A more ring-like configuration, with a central depression or centrally collapsed bullae may indicate linear IgA disease. Nikolsky's sign is negative unlike pemphigus vulgaris where it is positive.
In most cases of bullous pemphigoid, no clear precipitating factors are identified. Potential precipitating events that have been reported include exposure to ultraviolet light and radiation therapy. Onset of bullous pemphigoid has also been associated with certain drugs, including furosemide, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, captopril, penicillamine, and antibiotics.
Diagnosis is based on two biopsies of the skin, one submitted for routine H&E staining and one for immunofluorescence studies.
Bullous pemphigoid may be self-resolving in a period ranging from several months to many years even without treatment. Poor general health related to old age is associated with a poorer prognosis.
Treatments include class I topical steroids (clobetasol, halobetasol, etc.) which in some studies have proven to be equally effective as systemic, or pill, therapy and somewhat safer. However, in difficult-to-manage or widespread cases, systemic prednisone and powerful steroid-free immunosuppressant medications, such as methotrexate, azathioprine or mycophenolate mofetil, may be appropriate. Antibiotics such as tetracycline or erythromycin may also control the disease, particularly in patients who cannot use corticosteroids. The anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody rituximab has been found to be effective in treating some otherwise refractory cases of bullous pemphigoid.