What at first may seem like an innocent blush or sunburn may ultimately foreshadow rosacea. April was designated Rosacea Awareness Month by the National Rosacea Society (NRS) to alert the public to the warning signs of this red-faced, acne-like condition that affects an estimated 14 million Americans.
"Rosacea is frustrating and baffling for so many people because its conspicuous signs and symptoms may not only come and go unexpectedly, but they can affect various individuals in ways few might imagine," said Dr. Richard Odom, professor of dermatology at the University of California - San Francisco. "Unfortunately, without treatment rosacea tends to become progressively worse -- and can have a substantial impact both physically and on people's emotional, social and professional lives."
In surveys by the National Rosacea Society, nearly 70 percent of rosacea patients said this condition had lowered their self-confidence and self-esteem, and 41 percent reported it had caused them to avoid public contact or cancel social engagements. Among rosacea patients with severe symptoms, nearly 70 percent said the disorder had adversely affected their professional interactions, and nearly 30 percent said they had even missed work because of their condition.
Rosacea usually first strikes between the ages of 30 and 60.1 For many people, it starts innocently enough, resembling a sunburn or an inexplicable blush. Suddenly, without warning, a flush comes to their cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. Then just when they start to feel concerned, the redness disappears.
Unfortunately, it happens again and again, becoming ruddier and lasting longer each time -- and eventually, visible blood vessels may appear. Without treatment, bumps and pimples often develop, growing more extensive over time, and burning, itching and stinging are common. In severe cases, especially in men, the nose may become enlarged from the development of excess tissue. This is the condition that gave comedian W.C. Fields his trademark red, bulbous nose.
In some rosacea sufferers, the eyes may also be affected, a condition known as ocular rosacea. An eye affected by rosacea may appear watery or bloodshot, and patients may experience eye irritation, burning, stinging, itching, dryness or even light sensitivity.
"The good news is that, while rosacea cannot be cured, it can be effectively controlled with medical therapy and lifestyle changes," Dr. Odom said. Individuals with any of the following warning signs of rosacea are urged to see a dermatologist or other physician for diagnosis and appropriate treatment:
- Redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead
- Small visible blood vessels on the face
- Bumps or pimples on the face
- Watery or irritated eyes
- Powell FC. Rosacea. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005;352:793-803.