As if today's economy were not stressful enough, growing millions of Americans now face the embarrassment of a mysterious red-faced disorder that can wreak havoc on their emotional, social and professional lives. April has been designated as Rosacea Awareness Month by the National Rosacea Society (NRS) to alert the public to the warning signs of this chronic but treatable facial disorder now estimated to affect well over 14 million Americans.
"Whether it's a job interview or simply a social occasion, few things can be more disconcerting for many than developing a red face or blemishes," said Dr. John Wolf, chairman of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine. "While the initial signs of rosacea may come and go, without proper diagnosis and appropriate medical therapy the disorder can grow progressively more persistent and severe."
Rosacea usually first strikes individuals between the ages of 30 and 60, and may initially resemble a simple 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 people the eyes are also affected, feeling irritated and appearing watery or bloodshot. Severe cases of this condition, known as ocular rosacea, can result in reduced visual acuity.
Adding to medical concerns, new study results and other factors suggest that rosacea may be substantially more prevalent than is widely believed. Results of an NRS-funded study, recently presented by Dr. Maeve McAleer and colleagues from Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, for example, found that 14.4 percent of 1,000 subjects examined in Ireland had rosacea.
"As a chronic condition characterized by flare-ups and remissions, the prevalence of rosacea may appear to be lower because the signs and symptoms are not present at all times in every individual affected by the disorder," Dr. Wolf said. "As a result, the number of people who suffer from rosacea may be substantially higher than has been traditionally reported."
Beyond its physical effects, rosacea often inflicts significant emotional, social and professional concerns because of its intrusive impact on personal appearance.
Compounding the embarrassment is the common myth that rosacea sufferers, who often have a red face and nose, are heavy drinkers. In fact, while alcohol may aggravate rosacea, these symptoms can be just as severe in a teetotaler. Another common misconception is that rosacea is caused by poor hygiene, while in reality it is unrelated to personal cleanliness.
"The good news is that, while rosacea cannot be cured, it can be effectively controlled with medical therapy and lifestyle changes," Dr. Wolf said. Individuals with any of the following warning signs of rosacea are urged to see a dermatologist 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