A recent Gallup survey found that 78 percent of Americans have no knowledge of rosacea, even though it has become increasingly widespread as the 76 million baby boomers enter their 30s, 40s and 50s -- the most dangerous years for first acquiring this chronic disorder.
"People with rosacea commonly assume it's just a complexion problem that will go away by itself," said Dr. Larry Millikan, chief of dermatology at the Tulane University Medical Center. "It is vital for any adult with facial redness or acne-like symptoms to see a dermatologist for differential diagnosis and appropriate medical therapy to prevent rosacea's progression to more serious stages."
Rosacea is estimated to affect more than 13 million Americans, and typically strikes after age 30 as a redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that comes and goes. Left untreated, the redness becomes ruddier and more permanent. Tiny dilated blood vessels may become visible, and acne-like bumps and pimples often appear.
In advanced cases, the nose may become bumpy, red and enlarged from excess tissue. In some individuals, rosacea also causes the eyes to become gritty and red as it increases in severity, potentially leading to vision loss.
Although rosacea is often called "adult acne," the national Gallup survey found that 73 percent of the respondents did not know this term can refer either to acne vulgaris, which primarily occurs during adolescence but also may appear in adults, or to rosacea, which is far more serious and requires different therapy. And only 10 percent of respondents knew that acne medication often can make rosacea worse.
While rosacea can strike any segment of the population, individuals with fair skin who blush easily are considered most at risk. The condition is seen more frequently in women, but tends to be more severe in men. Some evidence suggests it runs in families, especially those of Irish, English, Scottish and northern or eastern European heritage.
"Fortunately today, we can usually stop the progression of rosacea and reverse its symptoms with proper medical treatment and appropriate lifestyle modifications," Dr. Millikan said.
In most cases, dermatologists initially prescribe fast-acting oral or topical antibiotics to bring the symptoms under immediate control, and then continue long-term therapy with the topical antibiotic alone to maintain remission of symptoms. It is also important for patients to identify and avoid any factors that might trigger flare-ups in their individual cases.