Like a mosaic slowly gaining definition and becoming clear, so too is the scientific understanding of the potential causes of rosacea. April has been designated as Rosacea Awareness Month by the National Rosacea Society (NRS) to educate the public on the warning signs of this chronic but treatable facial disorder now estimated to affect more than 16 million Americans.
The NRS has long supported medical research on rosacea through its patient-funded research grants program, awarding $1.4 million to date for 56 studies that may lead to advances in its treatment and potential prevention or cure. Ongoing research has suggested that rosacea may be caused by various possible factors, including the immune system, the nervous system, facial blood vessels and genetics, as well as the presence of microbes and Demodex mites on the skin. Meanwhile, there is now an expanding range of treatment options for its many potential signs and symptoms.
“Researchers are now making steady progress in defining potential causes of the disorder, which may provide a foundation for significant improvements in its effective control,” said Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of dermatology at the University of California – San Diego and a member of the NRS medical advisory board. “Nevertheless, translating those scientific advances into effective therapy will be for naught if those who suffer from the disorder fail to realize they have a medical condition that can be treated.”
In a recent NRS survey of 1,459 rosacea patients, 47 percent said they had never heard of rosacea prior to their diagnosis, and 95 percent said they had known little or nothing about its signs and symptoms. In other NRS surveys, 90 percent of rosacea patients said rosacea’s effect on personal appearance had lowered their self-esteem and self-confidence, and 41 percent said it had caused them to avoid public contact or cancel social engagements.
“Promoting early recognition of rosacea’s warning signs is a primary goal of the NRS because early diagnosis and treatment can keep the disorder from progressing to the point where it becomes an emotional and social burden,” Dr. Gallo said.
Rosacea typically first strikes anytime after age 30, 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. In some people the eyes are also affected, feeling irritated and appearing watery or bloodshot.
“The good news is that rosacea can now be effectively controlled with medical therapy and lifestyle changes,” Dr. Gallo said. “Through ongoing progress in research, a growing number of medical therapies are now available that can be tailored to each case and substantially reduce the impact of rosacea on people’s lives.”
Individuals with any of the following warning signs of rosacea are urged to see a dermatologist for diagnosis and appropriate treatment:
• Persistent flushing or 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