Professional Reference articles are designed for health professionals to use. They are written by UK doctors and based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. You may find the Guttate Psoriasis article more useful, or one of our other health articles.
Treatment of almost all medical conditions has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. NICE has issued rapid update guidelines in relation to many of these. This guidance is changing frequently. Please visit https://www.nice.org.uk/covid-19 to see if there is temporary guidance issued by NICE in relation to the management of this condition, which may vary from the information given below.
What is guttate psoriasis?
Guttate psoriasis is a distinctive acute skin condition characterised by small drop-like, salmon-pink papules which usually have a fine scale. This variant primarily occurs on the trunk and the proximal extremities but it may have a more generalised distribution. A history of an upper respiratory infection secondary to group A beta haemolytic streptococci often precedes the eruption by 2-3 weeks. Guttate psoriasis may be chronic and unrelated to streptococcal infection.
Guttate psoriasis epidemiology
- It is more common in individuals younger than 30 years.
- Genetic predisposition: guttate psoriasis has been linked with HLA-BW17, HLA-B13, HLA-CW6[2, 3].
- It is most often associated with streptococcal infection - two thirds have evidence of a recent strep throat infection - but may also be associated with stress, trauma (Köbner's phenomenon) or drugs - eg, antimalarials, lithium, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers.
Guttate psoriasis symptoms
- In most cases there is a history of an antecedent streptococcal infection, usually of the upper respiratory tract, such as pharyngitis or tonsillitis, 2-3 weeks prior to the eruption.
- There may be a positive family history of psoriasis.
- The onset of the skin lesions is often acute, with multiple papules erupting on the trunk and the proximal extremities.
- Lesions may sometimes spread to involve the face, the ears and the scalp.
- The palms and the soles are rarely affected.
- The rash is often associated with mild itching.
- Like other forms of psoriasis, guttate psoriasis tends to improve during the summer and worsen during the winter.
- Examination of the skin reveals characteristic lesions consisting of multiple, discrete drop-like salmon-pink papules. A fine scale may be seen on established lesions.
By Mohammad2018, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Nail changes characteristic of chronic psoriasis (eg, pits, ridges and the oil-drop sign) are usually absent.
- Nummular dermatitis.
- Pityriasis rosea.
- Lichen planus.
- Drug eruption.
- Viral exanthem.
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
- Pityriasis lichenoides.
- Diagnosis is clinical and biopsy is usually not required.
- Dermoscopy may be useful in differentiating guttate psoriasis from chronic pityriasis lichenoides.
- Serology: levels of antibodies to streptolysin O (ASO) may be elevated.
- Cultures: bacterial culture of the throat or perianal area.
Guttate psoriasis treatment and management
Treatment of acute guttate psoriasis is not based on trial evidence; rather, it is guided by expert opinion.
- Usually, the rash resolves within a few weeks to months without treatment for guttate psoriasis, so simple reassurance and emollients may therefore be sufficient.
- Clearance of guttate lesions can be accelerated by judicious exposure to sunlight or by a short course of narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy, so consider early referral in those who do not respond to topical treatment.
- Topical treatment with a vitamin D preparation, topical corticosteroid, or coal tar preparation can be considered but may be difficult due to the extent, size and wide distribution of lesions.
- Antibiotic treatment has often been given because of the association between guttate psoriasis and streptococcal infection. However a Cochrane review did not find convincing evidence of benefit and recommended further trials.
- A prospective study reported that the use of tonsillectomy for patients with chronic guttate psoriasis may be beneficial.
- Targeted therapy may result from research exploiting the role of the cytokine interleukin (IL)-17 in the pathogenesis of guttate and several other forms of psoriasis.
Guttate psoriasis complications
Complications are largely iatrogenic:
- Steroid-induced cutaneous atrophy, telangiectasia, hypopigmentation.
- PUVA side-effects - eg, nausea and vomiting, photosensitivity.
- Guttate psoriasis often runs a self-limited course over several weeks to a few months with complete remission in about 60%. Other patients go on to develop chronic plaque-type psoriasis. Good prognosis is associated with younger age and high ASO titres, whilst poorer prognosis is associated with a family history of psoriasis.
- Scarring is not a problem.
- Previously affected areas may show post-inflammatory hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation.
- Recurrent episodes may occur, especially with pharyngeal carriage of streptococci.
Further reading and references
Hwang YJ, Jung HJ, Kim MJ, et al; Serum levels of LL-37 and inflammatory cytokines in plaque and guttate psoriasis. Mediators Inflamm. 20142014:268257. doi: 10.1155/2014/268257. Epub 2014 Aug 14.
Guttate Psoriasis; DermIS (Dermatology Information System)
Weigle N, McBane S; Psoriasis. Am Fam Physician. 2013 May 187(9):626-33.
Umapathy S, Pawar A, Mitra R, et al; Hla-a and hla-B alleles associated in psoriasis patients from mumbai, Western India. Indian J Dermatol. 2011 Sep-Oct56(5):497-500. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.87128.
Cafardi J; Guttate HLA-B13, The Manual of Dermatology, 2012.
Nahary L, Tamarkin A, Kayam N, et al; An investigation of antistreptococcal antibody responses in guttate psoriasis. Arch Dermatol Res. 2008 Sep300(8):441-9. Epub 2008 Jul 22.
Errichetti E, Lacarrubba F, Micali G, et al; Differentiation of pityriasis lichenoides chronica from guttate psoriasis by dermoscopy. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Oct40(7):804-6. doi: 10.1111/ced.12580. Epub 2015 Feb 16.
Cunliffe D; Guttate Psoriasis, Primary Care Dermatology Society
Diagnosis and management of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis in adults; Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network - SIGN (October 2010)
Dupire G, Droitcourt C, Hughes C, et al; Antistreptococcal interventions for guttate and chronic plaque psoriasis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Mar 53:CD011571. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011571.pub2.
Harabuchi Y, Takahara M; Recent advances in the immunological understanding of association between tonsil and immunoglobulin A nephropathy as a tonsil-induced autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome. Immun Inflamm Dis. 2019 Jun7(2):86-93. doi: 10.1002/iid3.248. Epub 2019 Apr 7.
Lee E, Zarei M, LaSenna C, et al; Psoriasis Targeted Therapy: Characterization of Interleukin 17A Expression in Subtypes of Psoriasis. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Oct 114(10):1133-6.
Ko HC, Jwa SW, Song M, et al; Clinical course of guttate psoriasis: long-term follow-up study. J Dermatol. 2010 Oct37(10):894-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2010.00871.x.