The following was written by Dr. Joseph Murray, one of the leading USA physicians in the diagnosis of celiac disease (celiac disease) and dermatitis herpetiformis (DH). Dr. Murray (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN, is a gastroenterologist who specializes in treating Celiac disease:
The diagnosis is made by taking a skin biopsy and performing immunoflorescence studies on it (a specialized type of stain in major laboratories) The test is usually reliable but it takes a significant dedication to detect early cases where there is a short history of rash rather than years or months of rash. It is unusual to develop DH after the start of a GFD for celiac disease. About 5 % of celiac disease patients will develop DH usually in the first 6-12 months. This probably reflects the long lasting nature of the deposits under the skin.
Treatment for DH is twofold. (1) Remove the cause: gluten. (2) Suppress the skin response with drugs such as Dapsone or some other sulphones. The latter is the most common treatment used as it is rapidly relieves the itch. However there are some side effects associated with these medications and they need to be taken under medical monitoring with blood tests to detect side effects. It is my practice that DH should be treated with a gluten-free diet for life and use of drugs to get immediate relief in the short term. It is usually possible to get patient off the Dapsone after several months of a strict gluten-free diet.
The most common complication of DH is scarring which usually fades with time. Occasionally there can be secondary infection from scratching. There is probably a slightly increased chance of malignancy in those with DH who are not on a gluten-free diet. Several physical triggers are known to set off an attack of DH, especially exposure to iodides and bromides which are contained in household cleaners. A very good reference for DH is available from the GIG in Washington.