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Nikolsky sign

Nikolsky sign is a skin finding in which the top layers of the skin slip away from the lower layers when rubbed.

Considerations

The disease is more common is newborn babies and in young children under 5 years of age. It often begins in mouth and on neck, shoulder, arm pit, and in genital area. A child may be lethargic, irritable, and feverish. They may develop red painful blisters on the skin, which break easily.

Adults with disturbed kidney functions or with a weak immune system may have this sign. Your health care provider may use a pencil eraser or finger to test for Nikolsky sign. The skin is pulled to the side with a shearing pressure on the surface, or by rotating the eraser back and forth.

If the test result is positive, the very thin top layer of skin will shear off, leaving skin pink and moist, and usually very tender.

A positive result is usually a sign of a blistering skin condition. People with a positive sign have loose skin that slips free from the underlying layers when rubbed.

Causes

The Nikolsky sign can be often found in people with:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you or your child develops painful loosening, redness, and blistering of the skin, which you do not know the cause of (for example, a skin burn).

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The conditions associated with Nikolsky sign can be serious. Some people need to be admitted to the hospital. You will be asked about your medical history and given a physical examination.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the condition.

You may be given

  • Fluid and antibiotics through a vein (intravenously).
  • Petroleum jelly to decrease pain
  • Local wound care

Healing of the skin blisters occurs in about 1 to 2 weeks with no scarring.

References

Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL. Blisters and vesicles. In: Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL, eds. Urgent Care Dermatology: Symptom-Based Diagnosis. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 11.

Grayson W, Calonje E. Infectious diseases of the skin. In: Calonje E, Brenn T, Lazar AJ, Billings SD, eds. McKee's Pathology of the skin. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 18.

Marco CA. Dermatologic presentations. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 110.

  • Nikolsky sign

    Nikolsky sign - illustration

    Nikolsky sign is a skin finding caused by a staphylococcal infection in which the superficial layers of skin slip free from the lower layers with a slight rubbing pressure. Large areas of the skin will blister and peel away leaving wet, red and painful areas.

    Nikolsky sign

    illustration

    • Nikolsky sign

      Nikolsky sign - illustration

      Nikolsky sign is a skin finding caused by a staphylococcal infection in which the superficial layers of skin slip free from the lower layers with a slight rubbing pressure. Large areas of the skin will blister and peel away leaving wet, red and painful areas.

      Nikolsky sign

      illustration

     

    Review Date: 1/21/2020

    Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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