More than 13 million Americans are now believed to suffer from rosacea, yet few are aware that the redness, bumps and pimples are not just a temporary complexion problem but rather a chronic medical condition that tends to grow worse without medical treatment. During Awareness Month in April, the National Rosacea Society focuses on educating the public about this conspicuous and embarrassing disorder and dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding it.
Now that the oldest members of the massive baby boom generation are 51 and the youngest are 33, they have fully reached the prime years for acquiring this increasingly widespread and potentially disfiguring condition. Rosacea usually first strikes adults in their 30s, 40s or 50s as a redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that comes and goes.
Left untreated, the redness becomes ruddier and more permanent. Spidery dilated blood vessels known as telangiectasia may appear, and bumps and pimples called papules and pustules often develop. In some individuals, the eyes may feel gritty and become watery or bloodshot. In advanced cases, the nose may grow swollen from excess tissue, a condition called rhinophyma.
Because it affects the face, rosacea can have a profound effect on a victim's psychological well-being, self-esteem and social and business relationships. Those who suffer from this condition know that the myths surrounding rosacea -- that the red nose is due to excessive drinking, for example, or the bumps and pimples result from poor hygiene -- are untrue. Rosacea is unrelated to hygiene and, while alcohol may aggravate the condition, the symptoms can be just as severe in a teetotaler.
Moreover, sufferers themselves often mistakenly perpetuate yet other myths. Some feel they somehow may be to blame for rosacea's unexplained appearance. Some may think the symptoms will go away by themselves, especially since in the early stages the symptoms tend to come and go. Others may believe they just have a complexion problem and that nothing can be done.
"Fortunately, medical treatments can now arrest the progression of rosacea and reverse its symptoms," said Dr. Mark Dahl, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota. "Rosacea rarely simply disappears," he explained. "It is a chronic condition that tends to grow worse if it is not treated."
He noted that sufferers are not at fault for rosacea's first appearance, but they should comply with medical therapy and changes in lifestyle to avoid risk factors that may trigger a flare-up.
While rosacea can affect all segments of the population, it most often occurs in those with fair skin who tend to flush or blush easily. Dermatologists treat the disorder more frequently in women, but it is often found to be more severe in men. This may be because men are less likely to seek medical help before the condition reaches advanced stages.
"The keys to controlling rosacea are early intervention and compliance with long-term therapy," Dr. Dahl said. "A dermatologist can properly diagnose rosacea and prescribe therapy and lifestyle modifications that are tailored to each rosacea patient's particular needs."
Beginning with Rosacea Awareness Month, rosacea sufferers or those who suspect they have the condition may call the Society at a new toll-free hotline at 888/NO BLUSH to receive materials by mail, including general information on rosacea, Rosacea Review, a tripwires chart and a Patient Diary Checklist to help sufferers identify and avoid their own personal risk factors for flare-ups.