An estimated 14 million Americans suffer from rosacea, but most of them don't know it. April has been designated Rosacea Awareness Month by the National Rosacea Society (NRS) to alert the public to its warning signs. Those who may suffer from this widespread condition are encouraged to seek diagnosis and treatment before it increasingly disrupts their daily lives.
While millions are now affected by rosacea, its impact is on the rise as the populous baby boomers -- one in four Americans -- enter the most dangerous years for developing this chronic and often progressive disorder. Despite its prevalence, a Gallup survey found that 78 percent of the public has no knowledge of this condition, including how to recognize it and what to do about it.
"The early signs of rosacea are often mistaken for something else, such as sunburn or acne, so many rosacea sufferers fail to realize they have a medical condition that can be treated, or they assume it's a temporary complexion problem that will eventually go away by itself," said Dr. Larry Millikan, chairman of dermatology at Tulane University. "Unfortunately, without medical help rosacea tends to become progressively worse -- and can have a substantial impact both physically and on people's emotional, social and professional lives."
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. Among those with severe symptoms, nearly 30 percent said they had even missed work because of their condition.
Rosacea is a chronic disorder that primarily affects the cheeks, chin, nose or central forehead, and is often characterized by flare-ups and remissions. It typically first appears at any time after age 30 as a flushing or redness that comes and goes.
Over time, the redness becomes ruddier and more persistent, and visible blood vessels (telangiectasia) may appear. Bumps (papules) and pimples (pustules) often develop, and in some people the eyes feel irritated and appear bloodshot. In other cases, the nose may become swollen and enlarged from excess tissue. Without treatment, each of these potential signs and symptoms may progress from mild to moderate to severe.
Adding to the embarrassment of rosacea's effect on personal appearance is a common myth that rosacea sufferers, who often have a red face and nose, are alcoholics. In fact, while alcohol may aggravate the condition, 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. Millikan said. "With greater knowledge of its potential signs and symptoms, physicians should be able to achieve significant improvements in the diagnosis and management of this chronic and often life-disruptive disorder."
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 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.