Learn About Rosacea Symptoms and Treatment

Discover the Causes and Signs of the Rosacea Skin Disease

Girl with facial mask

Nobody wants to get a bad pimple on the face.  When we emerge from adolescence, we look forward to having far fewer prominent or unsightly blemishes and red marks on our faces.  Yet roughly 14 million Americans suffer from a skin disease that forces us to revisit those uncomfortably self-conscious teenage feelings as our faces break out in red rashes, bumps and pustules.  The name of this skin disease is rosacea. 

Here's how to treat it.

  1. Causes.  Rosacea occurs more often in women than men.  Often misunderstood and misdiagnosed, it can resemble other skin conditions (like acne) or be regarded as a consequence of heavy drinking.  In truth, rosacea has nothing to do with acne and, though drinking may worsen the symptoms of the disease, alcohol isn't the root cause.  However, scientists are still puzzled as to the exact nature of the disease.  Studies point to several possible underlying causes, ranging from a vascular condition to gastrointestinal bacteria, sun or even mites that live in hair follicles.  Most scientists contend that heredity plays a role in acquisition of the skin condition.
  2. Signs.  Rosacea can manifest itself in different ways.  Though female sufferers number more than men, men are likelier to exhibit the most severe signs of the disease. Here are some symptoms:
    • You often flush red in the face.
    • Your face develops irritated patches of red skin.
    • You have little red bumps (like pimples) around your face.
    • Tiny blood vessels appear on or around your nose or on your cheeks.
    • Your nose appears red and inflamed, perhaps even swollen around the tip. 
  3. Seek treatment.  Though it naturally occurs in waves and cycles, untreated rosacea gets progressively worse.  If you suspect that you may have it, or if you have already been diagnosed but aren't adhering to the treatment regimen prescribed by your doctor, now is a great time to commit to treatment of your skin disease. Here are some rosacea treatment options:
    • Antibiotics.  Antibiotic ointment and pills like tetracyclines are common treatments for rosacea.  Ointment is generally the first prescription, though pill and ointment forms are often prescribed together to clear the inflammation.  These drugs are used primarily for their anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Stronger medication.  When a flare-up of rosacea is particularly unpleasant, doctors may prescribe a drug called Isotretinoin.  Often prescribed for severe acne as well, this drug actually causes the sebaceous glands on the face to grow smaller.  The effects of the drug can be quite dramatic, but unfortunately so can the side effects, which is why doctors prescribe the drug only under severe circumstances, and only after less dangerous methods have failed.
    • Surgical methods.  Another skin treatment option is surgery. With laser surgery, doctors can reduce the visibility of blood vessels and redness in your face.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but lasers are used to cause deliberate damage to the capillaries, which triggers the body's defense mechanisms and reduces the appearance of inflammation.

      Additionally, lasers can reduce the accumulation of red tissue on the nose, a common symptom of advanced rosacea.

  4. Things you can do to cope.
    • Keep a diary.  You may not think that keeping track of your daily activities is an important part of treating rosacea, especially when you aren't experiencing any symptoms at the time.  But there are quite a few substances, environmental factors and activities that are suspected triggers of rosacea outbreaks and other skin problems in people; keeping a diary will help you to identify possible triggers in your life and avoid them in the future.  Commonly suspected triggers include stress, alcohol, certain medications, hot drinks or foods (and heat in general), spicy cuisine and exposure to sun.  Alcohol and sun exposure are such common provokers that doctors recommend any patient avoid them as much as possible.
    • Hygiene.  Our hygiene habits can sometimes lead to outbreaks as well.  Just as you should reduce your alcohol consumption, make sure your facial cleansers don't contain alcohol.  Use only noncomedogenic products to avoid clogging your pores.  Use sunblock and articles of clothing to protect your face from sun exposure.  Lastly, don't touch your face much, and certainly don't scratch it or rub it raw. 
    • Support.  If you're suffering from rosacea, you might begin to feel more self-conscious than you did as a teenager with acne.  The feelings of embarrassment often lead to a lower self-esteem and sometimes to depression.  It's important to remember that you're not alone.  Your doctor can help you find support in local or online communities of patients. 

Rosacea doesn't have to get in the way of your life.  Just look at some of the famous figures who have had it - Bill Clinton, Princess Diana, Rembrandt (very likely) and J.P. Morgan, to name a few.  Clearly you're in good company.  So be aggressive in confronting your condition!  In the long run, rosacea won't get better on its own; it will likely get worse without treatment.  Through a combination of medical attention and personal care, you can reduce inflammation to a forgettable, unnoticeable level.  Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to begin your treatment of rosacea.


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