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Rosacea (ro-ZA-she-uh) is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that affects adults. It causes redness in your face and produces small, red, pus-filled bumps or pustules. Left untreated, rosacea tends to be progressive, which means it gets worse over time. However, in most people rosacea is cyclic. This means your rosacea signs and symptoms may flare up for a period of weeks to months and then lessen for a while before flaring up again. Besides acne, rosacea can be mistaken for other skin problems, such as skin allergy or eczema. Though rosacea doesn't have a cure, treatments can control and reduce the signs and symptoms. If you experience persistent redness of your face, see your doctor for a diagnosis and proper treatment.

Complications of Rosacea

In severe and rare cases, the oil glands (sebaceous glands) in your nose and sometimes your cheeks become enlarged, resulting in a buildup of tissue on and around your nose — a condition called rhinophyma (ri-no-FI-muh). This complication is much more common in men and develops very slowly over a period of years.

Causes of Rosacea

The cause of rosacea is unknown, but researchers believe it's likely due to some combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Though the exact causes of rosacea remain a mystery, a number of factors can aggravate rosacea or make it worse by increasing blood flow to the surface of your skin. Some of these factors include:

  • Hot foods or beverages
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Temperature extremes
  • Sunlight
  • Stress, anger or embarrassment
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hot baths, saunas
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs that dilate blood vessels, including some blood pressure medications

One thing is certain — alcohol doesn't cause rosacea. While the consumption of alcohol can lead to flushing of the skin and may worsen rosacea, people who don't consume alcohol at all still can get rosacea.

Signs & Symptoms of Rosacea

Signs and symptoms of rosacea include:

  • Red areas on your face
  • Small, red bumps or pustules on your nose, cheeks, forehead and chin (but not the same as whiteheads or blackheads)
  • Red, bulbous nose (rhinophyma)
  • Visible small blood vessels on your nose and cheeks (telangiectasia)
  • Burning or gritty sensation in your eyes (ocular rosacea)
  • Tendency to flush or blush easily

Rosacea usually appears in phases:

  • Pre-rosacea. Rosacea may begin as a simple tendency to flush or blush easily, then progress to a persistent redness in the central portion of your face, particularly your nose. This redness results from the dilation of blood vessels close to your skin's surface. This phase may sometimes be referred to as pre-rosacea.
  • Vascular rosacea. As signs and symptoms worsen, vascular rosacea may develop — small blood vessels on your nose and cheeks swell and become visible (telangiectasia). Your skin may become overly sensitive. Vascular rosacea may also be accompanied by oily skin and dandruff.
  • Inflammatory rosacea. Small, red bumps or pustules may appear and persist, spreading across your nose, cheeks, forehead and chin. This is sometimes known as inflammatory rosacea. In addition, about one in two people with rosacea experience ocular rosacea — a burning and gritty sensation in the eyes. Rosacea may cause the inner skin of the eyelids to become inflamed or appear scaly, a condition known as conjunctivitis.

Diagnosis of Rosacea

There's no specific test that can diagnose rosacea. Instead, doctors rely on the history of the person's symptoms and a physical examination of the skin to diagnose the disorder.

Treatments of Rosacea

Though there's no way to eliminate rosacea altogether, effective treatment can relieve its signs and symptoms. Most often this requires a combination of prescription treatments and certain lifestyle changes on your part. Your doctor also may recommend certain moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens and other products to improve the health of your skin. If hot flashes appear to trigger your rosacea, you might ask your doctor what treatment options are available for the signs and symptoms of menopause.

Medications

You may need a combination of prescription-strength topical medication (lotion, cream or gel) and oral medication (pill, capsule or tablet) to treat rosacea.

  • Topical medications. Medications you apply to your skin once or twice daily may help reduce inflammation and redness. They may also be used along with oral medications or as part of a maintenance program to control symptoms. Common topical medications include antibiotics (metronidazole), tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid.
  • Oral antibiotics. Doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat rosacea, more for their anti-inflammatory properties than to kill bacteria. Oral antibiotics are also prescribed because they tend to work faster than topical ones. Common prescription oral antibiotics include tetracycline, minocycline and erythromycin.
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane). Isotretinoin is a powerful oral medication sometimes used for severe cases of inflammatory rosacea if other treatment options fail to improve symptoms. Usually prescribed for cystic acne, isotretinoin works to inhibit the production of oil by sebaceous glands. People who take it need close monitoring by a dermatologist because of the possibility of serious side effects.

Your doctor may treat ocular rosacea with oral antibiotics or steroid eyedrops. The duration of your treatment depends on the type and severity of your symptoms, but typically you'll notice an improvement within one to two months. Because symptoms may recur if you stop taking medications, long-term regular treatment is often necessary.

Surgical

Enlarged blood vessels, some redness and changes due to rhinophyma often become permanent. In these cases, surgical methods, such as laser surgery and electrosurgery, may reduce the visibility of blood vessels, remove tissue buildup around your nose and generally improve your appearance.

Prevention of Rosacea

You can't prevent rosacea, but you can take steps to reduce or control your symptoms long term.

  • Continue your treatment plan. Once rosacea improves or clears, you need to continue your maintenance treatment plan as outlined by your doctor. This may mean daily use of topical medications or continuing lifestyle or self-care measures.
  • Be gentle to your skin. Wash areas daily with a gentle cleanser and use oil-free, water-based skin care products. Avoid using products that contain skin irritants, such as alcohol.
  • Avoid rosacea triggers, if possible. Find out what triggers, if any, worsen your rosacea and take steps to prevent or avoid them. Extreme temperatures, sun exposure, spicy foods, alcohol and stress can all trigger rosacea.

When to seek Medical Advice

  • Unfortunately, rosacea rarely clears up on its own, and it tends to worsen over time if left untreated. If you experience persistent redness of your face, see your doctor or a skin specialist (dermatologist) for a diagnosis and proper treatment.
  • Many over-the-counter skin care products contain ingredients — such as acids, alcohol and other irritants — that may actually worsen rosacea. Because of the progressive nature of rosacea, an early diagnosis is important. Treatments tend to be more effective when started earlier.


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