Rosacea 101: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Although many people crave a healthy, rosy-cheeked look, rosacea is much different than a youthful flush. It is also very different from what you might experience after an intense workout or a day at the beach. These are natural or temporary flushes caused by blood rushing to the cheeks after exertion or because of sun exposure, but rosacea is a different type of flush.

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Overview

Rosacea is a chronic type of skin inflammation that often causes pustules and permanent flushing of the skin due to enlarged capillaries, the small blood vessels closest to the skin’s surface. The origin of rosacea is still unknown, and there is still no lasting cure, but there are triggers to watch for and treatment options that might help reduce the appearance of rosacea.

The onset of rosacea usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 years old, but like many other skin-related concerns, this condition worsens with age. The actual cause of rosacea has yet to be determined, but it is characterized by a permanent flush, usually on the cheeks, nose or neck area, and it is caused by enlarged capillaries. It is believed to be strongly affected by genetic indicators and is often accompanied by swelling, pimples, lumps under the skin, rash, or a stinging/burning sensation. Rosacea can include any variety of the above symptoms and may include others as well, depending on your condition. Unlike acne, the pustules and lumps will not be tender. Persistent redness accompanied by bumps that don’t cause physical discomfort would be a reason to consult your provider or dermatologist as rosacea may be the underlying cause.

Although the cause of rosacea remains unknown, triggers have been known to include things such as nighttime overheating, consuming alcohol, drinking hot beverages, taking long, hot baths, eating spicy foods, having caffeine, prolonged sun exposure and/or sun damage, and experiencing emotional or mental stresses. It has also been suggested that rosacea could be the result of a sensitivity to a microscopic creature, known as the Demodex folliculorum mite, which can live inside the pores of your skin. It is also interesting to note that there seems to be a connection between rosacea and systemic diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, metabolic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and glioma. Having one of these diseases may make you more susceptible to rosacea, and it would be worth mentioning to your provider if you believe you might be at risk for developing rosacea. You are also at a higher risk for rosacea symptoms if you have fair skin, light skin, thin skin, or sensitive skin. A family history of rosacea patients or blood pressure issues could also be risk factors that indicate potential proclivities. Having this health information readily available will help your provider in determining your treatment plan.

You will need to see your provider or a dermatologist know for sure whether or not you have rosacea. A provider may refer you to a dermatologist, but both will be able to examine your condition, compare that to your overall medical history, and determine the likelihood that you have, or may develop, rosacea. They may also need to do a blood test to rule out lupus erythematosus as lupus presents itself in a very similar way with a red pattern resembling a butterfly across the nose and cheeks. The National Rosacea Society points to the style or presence of rash development as indicating factors for differentiating between rosacea and lupus, but only a trained medical professional can make a definite distinction between the two.

Rosacea and Acne

Rosacea and acne are sometimes confused for one another, and while they can occur simultaneously, they are different dermatological conditions. Acne is related to sebum production, heightened keratin, and tender pustules, while rosacea deals more with the diameter of the blood vessels as well as the structure of the epidermis. It is possible, however, to experience both, a condition referred to as acne rosacea. Since acne and rosacea sometimes closely resemble one another, you will need to seek the advice of your provider before beginning any type of treatment as these two skin conditions require different skin care regimens.

Rosacea on the Face: Skin, Nose, and Eyelids

Rosacea most commonly occurs on the facial area, including the cheeks, nose, and eyelids, but it can also appear on the scalp, ears, and neck. It can also occur within the eyes. A manifestation in this area is referred to as ocular rosacea and may cause the eyes to become bloodshot, watery, or to develop styes (small, sometimes painful bumps in the eye area). If you notice these eye symptoms, do not hesitate to call your provider and seek their medical advice. Regardless of where your rosacea appears, it needs to be addressed in its early stages to prevent the hardening of the skin or a worsening of the condition. The symptoms of rosacea may vary from person-to-person. Therefore, if you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of rosacea, you should schedule an appointment with your provider or dermatologist as soon as possible.

Terminology and Definitions

  • Rosacea – a chronic type of skin inflammation often causing pustules and permanent flushing of the skin due to enlarged capillaries
  • Capillaries – the small blood vessels closest to the skin’s surface
  • Ocular – related to, happening in, or seen by the eye
  • Papules – red spots without pus
  • Pustule – pimple or blister-like spot on the skin that contains pus and has an inflamed base

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