Once thought of as a rare mysterious malady, rosacea is now the fifth most common diagnosis made by dermatologists, according to figures recently published in Skin and Allergy News.
Although the frequency of rosacea diagnosis ranks only behind that of such well-known skin disorders as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis and actinic keratosis, it was not until recent years that rosacea has become widely identified as one of the most common dermatological conditions.
"Although symptoms of this facial disorder have been depicted in art and literature over the ages, diagnosis and treatment of rosacea are now playing catch-up as medical knowledge and awareness have increased substantially," said Dr. Jerome Litt, assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University. "It is not so much that rosacea is occurring at a higher rate, but rather physicians and patients alike are recognizing what it is -- a distinct, chronic and often progressive medical disorder that can be successfully treated with proper therapy."
He noted that another force behind the rise in rosacea diagnoses is the fact that the populous baby boom generation has entered the most susceptible ages for developing this common condition.
Rosacea typically first appears between the ages of 30 and 60 as a flushing or redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that comes and goes. Gradually the redness becomes ruddier and more persistent, and small blood vessels may become visible. Left untreated, bumps and pimples often develop, and in advanced cases the nose may become swollen and bumpy from excess tissue.
For some 700 years, the telltale signs of rosacea have been portrayed by various artists in their paintings. A well-known medical journal recently observed that Rembrandt's self-portrait with blotchy patches of red skin on his face -- including one with a fading halo of spider veins -- suggests he suffered from rosacea.1 Rosacea symptoms are also vividly described in early literature, including Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's Henry V.
A French surgeon living in the 14th century, Dr. Guy de Chauliac, was the first person known to medically describe rosacea as "red lesions in the face." Rosacea was commonly attributed to the excessive consumption of alcohol, even earning the French name, "pustule de vin," meaning pimples of wine. However, while alcohol may aggravate the condition, rosacea symptoms can be just as severe in a teetotaler.
In the 19th century, medical references to rosacea usually listed it as a form of acne. Today dermatologists have learned that rosacea is a different disease from acne, and that therapy for acne can often make it worse.
Espinel CH: A medical evaluation of Rembrandt. His self-portrait: Ageing, disease, and the language of the skin. The Lancet. 1997;350:1835-1837