Mucous Membrane Pemphigoid

Mucous membrane pemphigoid is one of a group of fairly rare skin diseases which can occur as a result of the body’s autoimmune system mistakenly assaulting the lining of the nose, the mouth and other locations around the body.

What is mucous membrane pemphigoid?

People can be stricken by pemphigoid at just about any age, from childhood on up to senior citizen. It is caused by some kind of malfunction with the immune system, and when this malfunction occurs, the immune system attacks perfectly healthy tissue in the body, causing blistering and rashes to appear.

These blisters and rashes are sometimes manifested on the legs, abdomen and arms, but the focus of this article will be the attacks on the body’s mucous membranes, which help to shield inner parts of the body from harm. When pemphigoid attacks mucous membranes, it can be evident in the mouth, nose, eyes, throat and even on the genitals.

By far the most common areas attacked are the eyes and mouth, but if the symptoms are not treated promptly, they can also spread to other areas of the body. Pemphigoid which attacks the mucous membranes around the eyes can be particularly troublesome because it can lead to scarring, and that scarring can cause permanent blindness.

Risks for pemphigoid

Since it is an autoimmune disease, pemphigoid falls into the category of diseases where the immune system attacks the body's healthy tissues for some unknown reason, creating antibodies below the most external layer of skin. That triggers a separation in the skin layers and allows a painful kind of blistering to develop.

Although it is not understood by doctors and scientists why the immune system attacks healthy tissue of the mucous membranes, it is thought to be related to certain kinds of medications, and certain kinds of therapy, such as radiation therapy and ultraviolet light therapy. People who already have other autoimmune disorders are at much greater risk of developing pemphigoid, as are people in the elderly age group. Females are slightly more at risk of developing the condition than are males, and when they do, it can occur fairly often during pregnancy.

Pemphigoid symptoms

The most commonly occurring symptoms, and of course the most obvious symptoms, of pemphigoid are the blisters which appear on mucous membranes. Any person who develops these blisters or rashes may also have hives and is likely to experience noticeable itching in the affected areas. The blisters associated with pemphigoid have the following characteristics:

  • skin in the area surrounding the blisters usually appears normal, but can also be slightly reddish in color
  • the blisters tend to be fairly large, and are filled with clear fluid for the most part, although some of them can contain blood
  • most blisters are fairly thick and will not be easily ruptured
  • prior to the development of blisters, it's normal for a reddish-colored rash to appear
  • when the blisters do rupture, it's generally very sensitive and very painful in the area around them.

Diagnosing pemphigoid

Your family doctor or dermatologist will probably be able to make an accurate diagnosis of pemphigoid after a thorough examination of any blisters you have already developed. Once pemphigoid has been diagnosed, additional testing will generally be needed in order to prescribe proper treatment for the specific case.

In some cases, a doctor will want to perform a skin biopsy, in which a tiny sample of the skin is removed from an area where blisters have developed. It will be fairly easy for laboratory technicians to test these skin samples, to determine whether or not they contain antibodies which indicate their origin was the immune system.

This will identify them as symptoms of pemphigoid. The same diagnosis can be made by drawing blood from a patient, so if a skin biopsy is not feasible for any reason, drawing a sample vial of blood is a suitable alternative.

Pemphigoid treatments

Pemphigoid is a disease which cannot be cured, but fortunately, there are several treatment options which have proven to be very successful historically. The first choice of many doctors will be a corticosteroid, applied either as a topical or ingested as a pill. Corticosteroids help to reduce inflammation at the sites affected by pemphigoid, and they will also help to reduce the blisters, as well as the severity of itching experienced by the patient.

If the pemphigoid condition does not clear up promptly as a result of corticosteroid usage, your doctor may transition you to some other treatment form, because there are certain undesirable side effects associated with long-term corticosteroid usage. There are also some immunosuppressant medications which act on the immune system to prevent them from attacking the healthy tissue of your mucous membranes. These are often used in conjunction with antibiotics such as tetracycline, which is effective at reducing infections and inflammation.

Home care for pemphigoid

Medications can be very effective in helping to treat and manage the symptoms of pemphigoid, but there are some important steps you should take at home as well, in order to limit any damage caused by the disease. In order to prevent infections and reduce the level of itching and discomfort, you should take proper care of any blisters which develop.

Your doctor will guide you through a procedure that will help keep your blisters clean, and you should follow these recommendations conscientiously. Even though the blisters are fairly resistant to rupture, you should make sure everything possible is done to avoid having them rupture, because it can leave scarring.

If blisters develop in an extremely inconvenient and uncomfortable area, make sure to alert your doctor to this, so that he/she can remove the fluid with a sterile needle. As a matter of routine, make sure that all your clothing is washed frequently, along with any linens or towels that you regularly use for personal hygiene.

The blisters which form in the mucous membranes of your mouth will have to be carefully avoided during brushing so that no further damage is caused to the blisters, and so that it doesn't become excessively painful. Your family doctor can be very helpful in demonstrating the most effective method for brushing.

The duration of mucous membrane pemphigoid is different from person to person, the severity of the affliction is likewise very different among people. In some cases, your mucous membrane pemphigoid will go away on its own with a little care, but other cases may persist uncomfortably long. In all cases, your doctor can provide the best advice for how it should be treated and the quickest way to restore your body to normal.