Types of EB - Debra Ireland

EB is a genetic condition affecting the body's largest organ - the skin.

On average, 300 people in Ireland live with EB.

There are different types of EB, but they all share the main symptom of having skin as fragile as a butterfly wing. Skin that blisters and tears from minor friction or trauma.

The list of complications and secondary illnesses can be long and requires multiple interventions from a range of medical specialists. EB affects all genders and racial and ethnic groups equally.

There is no treatment or cure, but researchers are making tremendous strides in developing therapies. The current standard of care is supportive, which includes daily wound care, pain management, and protective bandaging.

Types of EB

How we can help you?

The genetics of EB

EB is caused by genetic variants in more than 20 genes.

EB is caused by genetic variants. Disease-causing variants in more than 20 genes are associated with EB. These genes contain the information that is translated into proteins such as keratins, collagens, laminins, and integrins, which are present in the skin and ensure its integrity and resistance.

The variant in a gene affects the correct function of these proteins. EB can be inherited in one of three ways: autosomal recessive inheritance, autosomal dominant inheritance, and de novo inheritance.

Frequently asked questions

What is epidermolysis bullosa (EB)?

EB (epidermolysis bullosa) is a group of incredibly painful genetic blistering condition that affects the body’s largest organ; the skin. People living with EB are missing the essential proteins that bind the skin’s layers together, so any minor friction, movement or trauma causes it to break and blister. It’s debilitating. Excruciating. Relentless. A disease with no known cure.

There are four main forms of EB that vary in severity, but all carry their own life-limiting symptoms, life-long pain and, in many cases, disability. The more severe forms of EB have a life expectancy range of early infancy to 35 years of age.

EB can affect both, the external and internal lining of the skin.

Is EB contagious?

No, EB is not contagious. As it is a genetic condition it cannot be ‘caught’ by being in contact with someone who has EB.

How common is EB?

EB is a classified as a rare disease. An estimated 1 in 18,000 babies born in Ireland are affected by EB. Over 500,000 people have EB worldwide.

On average, 300 people in Ireland have EB.

How is EB inherited?

EB is passed from parent to child, as with most other physical traits. It is described as being either dominant, recessive or sporadic.

  • In recessive cases both parents pass a faulty copy of a gene to the child but neither parent has the condition.
  • In dominant forms a faulty copy of a gene is inherited from one of the parents, who generally also has EB.
  • Sporadic (or random) cases are also common in EB, where the faulty gene is not passed from the parents but is due to a ‘new’ change in the child’s DNA.

Having faulty genes is not uncommon. In fact we all have a certain number of faulty genes but in most cases they do us no harm and we are not aware of them.

What genes cause EB?

There are a number of genes associated with the skin that can cause EB if they have a fault in them. They are called such names as collagens, keratins and intergrins. In all cases, however, they are responsible for making proteins which are important for the structure of the skin.

Different genes are responsible for the various types and subtypes of EB.

How do faulty genes result in the symptoms of EB?

Genes are responsible for making proteins which can be considered the ‘work horses’ of the body. All the genes involved in EB are responsible for making proteins which are important for the structure of the skin. The skin is made of different layers and these proteins bind the layers together. When they are reduced, absent or functioning incorrectly, the layers of the skin can separate, resulting in blistering and wounding.

Are there different types of EB?

Yes, there are different forms of EB that range from less severe to more severe. As mentioned, there are many different genes responsible for EB and these give rise to different forms of EB. Broadly however, there are three major subtypes: EB simplex, junctional EB and dystrophic EB.

Can one form of EB become another?

No, one form of EB cannot become a different form. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a less severe form of EB you will never develop one of the more severe forms. Many of the symptoms are specific to only one form of EB and will not be experienced by people living with another form.

How is EB diagnosed?

If EB is suspected by medical staff because of physical symptoms, then a small sample of skin will be taken for examination under a microscope. This gives a very good indication of whether the symptoms are caused by EB and if so, what form of EB it is. Where possible the diagnosis is confirmed by genetic testing.

Is it only the skin that is affected in EB?

In less severe cases, yes, it is only the skin which is affected.

In more severe cases however, the internal linings of the body (such as the mouth, oesophagus and intestines) can be badly affected as well. Other tissues which may be affected include the teeth, nails and eyes.

In some severe forms the fingers and toes can fuse to give a mitten-like appearance. Although there are characteristic symptoms of EB they vary hugely between patients.

While we tend to talk mostly about the effects on skin, many of the potential treatments currently being researched will treat both external and internal wounding.

Is there a cure for EB?

No, there is currently no cure for EB. Treatment of the condition presently consists of the management of symptoms, which has improved dramatically over the years. There is much research being undertaken worldwide however, to find effective treatments and cures. DEBRA Ireland is funding a variety of projects aimed at developing treatments and cures for EB (please see our research pages for more detail).

Other resources

Make a donation

With your support, our team travels all over the country, serving people living with EB, caring for someone with EB, or bereaved by EB in all 32 counties and are able to help alleviate pressures in all kinds of everyday ways.