Research and clinical experience show that targeting the persistent redness (erythema) of rosacea, in combination with treating all signs and symptoms individually, may not only clear its appearance but also lessen the severity of the disease itself, according to Dr. Julie Harper, president and owner of the Dermatology and Skin Care Center of Birmingham.
“We’re on the cusp of really changing how we treat rosacea,” Dr. Harper said.
One reason for the change was the recently published update to the standard classification of rosacea,1 which appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and provided a more complete understanding of the disorder as a single disease with a wide variety of potential signs and symptoms.
“You want to be sure to treat every manifestation of rosacea in each patient,” she said. “We’re going to be using more tools because there will be a more comprehensive evaluation that will treat the whole of each individual case.”
While persistent facial redness is one of the primary diagnostic features of rosacea, individual cases often include bumps and pimples from inflammation as well as small visible blood vessels (telangiectasia), she said. Depending on the specific signs and symptoms, a comprehensive treatment plan may include such therapies as oral and topical agents that work to reduce inflammation as well as topical therapy for redness and a laser device when needed for visible blood vessels or excess tissue.
Dr. Harper noted that redness may often underlie other signs and symptoms, and even if it is not the most obvious feature to the patient, it is an important treatment target. Yet many patients may not be aware that treatments are available to address this symptom.
“Background erythema is very often present along with other signs,” she said. “While bumps and pimples may be bothersome to the patient, the redness is also a central part of the pathogenesis (development of the disorder). We don’t just want to fix what we see now, we want to halt the progression of the disease.”
In a long-term safety study, researchers found that consistent daily use of oxymetazoline cream 1% over 52 weeks was not only effective but well tolerated in reducing redness. Moreover, at the end of the study, it resulted in skin that appeared less red before the medication was applied compared to when when the study began.2 These results indicate that daily vasoconstriction may be altering the vessels over time and yielding better outcomes. The medication specifically targets the enlargement of blood vessels and reduces them to normal size, Dr. Harper explained, and added that the findings have had a critical influence on how she prescribes therapy.
“Based on what we’re learning, I’m using oxymetazoline more and more,” she said. “It’s a shift in our thinking about rosacea. It’s time to also start targeting dilated vessels for treatment, as it seems to be an important part of managing what we already see and helping to control the disease long-term.”
Patients should talk with their doctor about treatment options. While comprehensive treatment plans may be complex, a key to ensuring that patients gain the full benefit is education to encourage compliance with therapy — explaining why more than one medication may be necessary and exactly how the therapies should be used. The time of day, and the frequency and areas of application should be clearly explained. “Medications work differently and have different targets and outcomes and using them in combination is going to help to make our patients better.”
A patient who applies oxymetazoline before going to bed instead of in the morning won’t see the full benefit of treatment, for example. Also, the cream should be used every day. “I had been allowing patients to use the therapy as needed, but now I am convinced we need to use it consistently. The erythema of rosacea didn’t happen overnight. The vasodilation is not intermittent, and the vasonormalization shouldn’t be either. It’s really a game-changer.”
1. Gallo RL, Granstein R, Kang S, et al. Standard classification and pathophysiology of rosacea: the 2017 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:148-155.
2. Draelos ZD, Gold MH, Weiss RA, et al. Efficacy and safety of oxymetazoline cream 1.0% for treatment of persistent facial erythema associated with rosacea: findings from the 52-week open label REVEAL trial. J Am Acad Dermatol 2018 Jun;78(6):1156-1163. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.01.027.