If you’re experiencing what seems to be a chronic and intense case of acne once you’re well out of your teens, or if you seem to get sunburned without ever spending time out of doors, you may actually be suffering from a condition called rosacea. While this disease affects more than 16 million Americans, few people have heard of it and even fewer know enough about the condition to recognize it in the mirror.
Who Is Likely to Get Rosacea?
While anyone can suffer from rosacea, certain people are more likely to be affected. Women, people over the age of 30, and those with lighter complexions are more likely to be diagnosed with rosacea (although men who do develop rosacea are often the ones hardest hit by the disease).
Symptoms depend on the particular patient as well as the subtype of rosacea – there are four different classifications, and a single person may suffer from one or more at the same time. Patients commonly present with easily flushed or permanently reddened skin, highly sensitive skin, facial spider veins, or small pus-filled, pimple-like bumps. The face is the most likely site to be affected, especially in the T-zone and beneath the eyes, but sometimes the neck, the back of the head, and the torso may be affected as well.
Each of the four subtypes of rosacea has its own distinctive set of characteristics, which a trained dermatologist can use to differentiate between them. Erythematotelangiectatic rosacea tends to cause sensitive skin along with lasting reddening in the face, and distinctive spider veins may also appear beneath the surface of the skin (“telangiectasias” is the medical term for spider veins). This is the form of rosacea that is most likely to appear on parts of the body other than the head or neck.
Papulopustular rosacea, the most acne-like of the subtypes, brings red and sometimes pus-filled bumps that come and go on the face. The third subtype, phymatous rosacea, is associated with a thickening of the affected skin – it may also affect the nose, chin, and ears and cause an enlargement of these body parts. The final subtype is ocular rosacea, which is found in as many as half of all rosacea cases. In this type, the eyes themselves become affected by the disease, and the patient may notice dry, gritty-feeling eyes, light sensitivity, or vision changes.
Because rosacea can vary so much in appearance, and because it can look similar to other conditions such as sunburn, acne, eczema, and allergic rashes, it’s important to see a dermatologist with any concerns you have. Improper treatment (such as applying a steroid cream, as is often suggested for severe cases of eczema) can have a detrimental effect and worsen or prolong symptoms.
Treatment for rosacea depends on the severity and extent of each particular case – it may be as simple as avoiding the triggers that tend to evoke an outbreak (sunlight, stress and anxiety, and the use of alcohol are common factors for many people).
For more advanced cases, especially where pus-filled pimples or eye infections have developed, antibiotics may be prescribed, and doctors may even suggest laser therapy to help break up and destroy facial spider veins. Laser therapy can also help in the case of phymatous rosacea, where it can be used to thin out the thickened patches of skin and to remove the excess tissue found in enlarged noses or ears.