CHICAGO (March 1, 2004) -- Red or watery eyes go along with red faces for many of the estimated 14 million Americans with rosacea, adding to their discomfort and even threatening their vision if allowed to become severe. April has been designated Rosacea Awareness Month to alert the public to the early warning signs of this widespread and often embarrassing facial disorder, and to encourage those who may have this condition to seek medical help before it increasingly disrupts their daily lives.
"Rosacea is frustrating and baffling for so many people because its signs and symptoms may not only wax and wane unexpectedly, but often affect various individuals in ways few might imagine," said Dr. John Wolf, chairman of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine. "As a result, many fail to seek appropriate medical help until its conspicuous and potentially serious effects become severe. This may be especially the case when it affects the eyes, since people generally do not associate eye problems with a skin disease."
In fact, while rosacea is becoming increasingly widespread as the populous baby boom generation enters the most susceptible ages, a Gallup survey found that 78 percent of Americans have no knowledge of this disease, including how to recognize it and what to do about it.
Rosacea is a chronic disorder primarily of the facial skin that usually strikes at any time after age 30. For many people, it starts innocently enough, resembling a sunburn or inexplicable blush. Suddenly, without warning, a flush comes to their cheeks, nose, chin or forehead. Then just when they start to feel concern, the redness disappears. Unfortunately, it happens again and again, becoming ruddier and lasting longer each time.
Eventually, visible blood vessels may appear, and without treatment bumps and pimples often develop, growing more extensive over time. In severe cases, especially in men, the nose may become enlarged from excess tissue. This is the condition that gave comedian W.C. Fields his trademark red bulbous nose.
Among the most famous rosacea sufferers is former President Bill Clinton, whose doctors disclosed that he has this condition in The New York Times. Others reported to have suffered from the disorder include Princess Diana, financier J.P. Morgan and the Dutch painter Rembrandt.
In about 60 percent of rosacea sufferers, the eyes are also affected, a condition known as ocular rosacea. An eye affected by rosacea may appear watery or bloodshot, and patients may also experience eye irritation, burning, stinging, dryness, itching or light sensitivity.
As this ocular condition progresses, common manifestations include dry eye, swollen eyelids, visible blood vessels on the eyelids, and styes. In severe cases, corneal complications may result in loss of visual acuity or vision.
"One of the reasons ocular rosacea often goes undetected is that these signs and symptoms tend to develop separately from the facial symptoms of the disorder," Dr. Wolf noted. "While ocular rosacea may begin as a mild irritation, without appropriate care and treatment it can become increasingly serious."
Beyond its physical effects, rosacea often inflicts significant emotional and social damage because of its conspicuous impact on personal appearance. In recent surveys by the National Rosacea Society, nearly 70 percent of rosacea patients said this unsightly disorder 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 those with severe symptoms, nearly 30 percent said they had even missed work because of their condition.
Adding to the embarrassment is a common myth that rosacea sufferers, who often have a red face and nose, are alcoholics. In fact, while alcohol may aggravate rosacea, the symptoms can be just as severe in a teetotaler. Another common misconception is that rosacea is caused by poor hygiene, while in reality the disorder 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.
Because the underlying causes and other key aspects of rosacea are unknown, the National Rosacea Society has established a research grants program to encourage and support greater scientific knowledge of the potential causes and other key aspects of this poorly understood disorder. The society is now funding a growing number of new studies on rosacea that may lead to improvements in its treatment, management and potential cure or prevention.
During April and throughout the year, individuals who suspect they have rosacea can call the society's toll-free number at 1-888-NO-BLUSH to receive free information on rosacea and Rosacea Review, a newsletter for rosacea patients. The society also offers a patient diary checklist to help rosacea sufferers identify and avoid lifestyle and environmental factors that may aggravate the condition or trigger flare-ups in individual cases, as well as a booklet on coping with the disorder.
Further information and educational materials may also be obtained by writing the National Rosacea Society, 111 Lions Dr., Ste. 216, Barrington, Illinois 60010, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information and materials are also available on the society's website at www.rosacea.org.