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Skin Diseases and Conditions
Skin problems, in whatever form and intensity, have always been a nightmare for people. However, if the symptoms remains cosmetic, then these are still bearable and almost always curable to a certain extent.
The allergies, conditions and diseases of the skin can vary to a great degree, in terms of intensity and cause as well as the overall impact on your body. Generally speaking, a skin problem turns into a scare when it becomes a medical issue rather than a cosmetic one. For instance, a mild and recurring rash on your elbow could normally be taken as a reaction to a particular cream, lotion or even a medical ointment. However, it turns into a serious problem when the rash refuses to go away, worsening instead and causing pain which could even be intolerable at times.
For the purpose of clarity, skin diseases and conditions can be grouped under two distinct categories as below:
- Category I – Allergies
- Category II – Diseases, which can be life-threatening or fatal
The skin diseases generally appear as a mild symptom of common rash or allergy. Gradually, they begin to show symptoms of a more serious and deeper problem which probably calls for an immediate diagnosis and a consequent treatment. Treatment is usually intensive and requires long-term attention, though such diseases are often fatal.
In the majority of life-threatening skin diseases such as skin cancer, the treatment is often aimed at slowing down the progress of the disease. For instance, in the case of skin cancer, chemotherapy combined with other therapies is usually used to cure the disease in such a manner that the further growth of cancerous cells is halted to a certain extent.
A skin allergy typically causes the human body to display a heightened sensitivity to a specific set of substances. In turn, the immune system overreacts if these substances get in contact with the body or are absorbed by it.
Skin allergies account for at least 70% of all skin-related problems. The most conspicuous and immediate symptom of skin allergies is a red, bumpy, scaly, itchy or swollen skin. The causative factors can include a wide variety of reasons, ranging from plants, pets, medicines, food to jewellery and even your basic clothing.
Types of Skin Allergies
For years, both the experts and patients have been getting perplexed over the sudden outburst of allergic reactions in human skin. Very often the causes are difficult to make out, though the resulting allergy can very well mar the quality of your daily life. Skin allergies usually occur in a lot of forms due to a series of reasons, which are quite often unknown.
Below you will find a brief description of the most common categories of skin allergies along with their essential details.
Often referred to as acute urticaria, hives is a form of allergy that might last from several hours to a few days and is mostly allergic in its origin. However, the other form of hives, chronic urticaria, is rarely allergic and is usually caused by foods, food additives and medicines. This form of allergy is commonly referred to as pseudo-allergy.
The most conspicuous sign of the appearance of hives is an outbreak of pimples, called ‘nettle rash’. It might appear anywhere in the body and is characterized by red, swollen and itchy welts which form on the skin.
According to medical research, hives or acute urticaria might result as a result of one or more of the reasons indicated below:
- Food allergens – e.g., eggs, fish, nuts, fruit
- Medicine allergens – e.g., pencillin, hormones, sulphonamides
- Aeroallergens – e.g., pollen, mildew, animal hair
- Insect stings – e.g., bees, wasps
- Infections – e.g., glandular fever, hepatitis B and the like
Angioedema is a typical form of urticaria. Its most conspicuous symptom is the swelling on the face, more particularly on the lips, eyelids, a few of the mucous membranes and various other parts of the body along with a painful and burning sensation.
Though there is no itching in this and Quincke’s disease, another form of urticaria, yet it can actually turn dangerous if it attacks the mucous membranes of the mouth and pharynx. Besides, a swollen tongue or swollen back of the mouth can also block the breathing passage, which can further cause the patient to choke or suffocate.
Bites and stings are also another major cause of this skin allergy. The most prominent symptoms of this allergy caused by bites or stings include:
According to medical research, the possible causes of human skin allergies can be summarized under ten main headings:
- Nickel (nickel sulfate hexahydrate) – mostly present in jewelry and clasps or buttons on clothes.
- Gold – also found frequently in jewelry.
- Balsam of Peru – often used in fragrances and perfumes.
- Thimerosal – used in local antiseptics and as a preservative in some vaccines.
- Neomycin – a very common topical antibiotic cream.
- Fragrance mix – basically a group of the most common fragrance allergens found in foods, cosmetics, insecticides, antiseptics, soaps, perfumes and dental products.
- Formaldehyde – a preservative found in paper products, medication, household cleaners and fabric finishes.
- Cobalt chloride – found in hair dyes and antiperspirants.
- Bacitracin – a topical antibiotic.
- Quaternium 15 – a preservative found in many cosmetics, including self-tanners, shampoos, nail polishes and sunscreen lotions
If you have allergy symptoms, you should consult an immunologist or allergist for help. An allergist can diagnose your condition and prescribe a suitable allergy treatment to help you feel better.
Eczema is basically an umbrella term used for a group of skin conditions, which typically cause the skin to become red, irritated and itchy. A form of dermatitis or an inflammation of the upper layers of the skin, eczema might also be identified by the presence of one or more of the symptoms indicated below:
- Skin edema
Common Types of Eczema
There are basically four common types of eczema. While there other types of eczema, however, they are seen quite rarely.
Also known as infantile or flexural eczema or atopic dermatitis, atopic eczema is believed to affect individuals with a family history of the disease. This form of eczema is also seen in families where certain members are afflicted with hay fever and asthma. The most conspicuous symptom in this case is an itchy rash on the face, scalp, neck, inside of elbows, behind the knees and buttocks.
Contact dermatitis is characterized by a red, itchy rash when you come into contact with a particular substance or show an allergic reaction to it. While it isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can cause extreme discomfort.
This form of eczema exists in two forms:
- Irritant – resulting from direct reaction to a solvent
- Allergic – triggered off by an allergen such as poison ivy or nickel
This form of eczema occurs when the condition of dry skin worsens beyond such a point that it turns into eczema. Most affected areas of the body include limbs and trunk. Quite common among the older population, this form of eczema almost always worsens in winters.
Also known as the cradle cap in infants, this form of eczema causes dry or greasy scaling of the scalp and eyebrows. Most conspicuous symptoms include pimples and red patches on the skin.
Rare Forms of Eczema
The less common forms of eczema include:
- Discoid eczema
- Venous eczema
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
The main objective of the treatment methods adopted for eczema is to reduce the existing symptoms and relieve the patient from pain and discomfort. Experts suggest that while there might not be a total cure for the disease, yet resolving the symptoms might act therapeutic to a certain extent.
As non-cosmetic moisturizers, emollients are used to soften and smooth the scales of the skin, which in turn help reduce rough, flaky skin. These are necessary to reduce water loss and hence prevent dryness, which is associated with eczema. These are available in the form of ointments for extremely dry skin and creams and lotions for dry skin for mild to moderate eczema.
In the case of a flare-up of eczema, the skin often becomes inflamed, necessitating the use of a steroid cream. Topical steroids basically come in four strengths:
- Moderately potent
- Very potent
Such medications are applied as a thin coat over the affected area or as otherwise prescribed by your doctor.
These are prescribed in severe cases of eczema, mostly where the use of topical steroids has been ineffective.
Used to help regulate or normalize the immune system, immunomodulators are among the latest forms of medication available for eczema and should be administered under medical supervision only.
Other treatment options
- Wet wrap bandaging
- Ultra violet treatment
Since there is no sure cure for eczema, experts generally advise strictly following a certain set of preventive measures. These measures include:
- Avoiding substances that could irritate or stress your skin, which could include household cleaners, drying soaps, detergents and fragranced lotions.
- Stay away from water as much as possible and take only short and warm baths.
- Keep your environment dust-free and maintain hygienic surroundings.
- Wear only cotton clothes
- Moisturize your skin with a fragrance-free moisturizer such as petroleum jelly to prevent the skin from becoming irritated and cracked
- Avoid scratching on the itchy surface as much as possible.
- Avoid facing any sudden changes in temperature, which could further lead to increased sweating.
- Avoid stress as much as possible and take the prescribed medication regularly.
If you notice any of the early signs of eczema, you should see a dermatologist without delay A dermatologist can determine what type of eczema you may have and prescribe a treatment plan based on your medical history.
Psoriasis is basically an inflammatory skin condition, typically characterized by the appearance of red and scaly patches on the skin. The patches, known as psoriatic plaques, are the center point of inflammation and also excessive skin production.
In this type of skin disease, the skin begins to accumulate at these spots and starts to take on a silvery white appearance. Though such plaques usually occur on the skin of elbows and knees, yet it is also quite common to see these on scalp and genitals. Once it appears, psoriasis tends to develop a chronic recurring pattern. These often vary in severity, ranging from minor localized patches to the complete body coverage.
Types of Psoriasis
There are several types of psoriasis which manifest itself in various forms. Main types of psoriasis are briefly explained below along with their key symptoms.
This is the most common form of psoriasis and affects up to 80% of people suffering from this condition. This form of the disease typically appears as a raised area of inflammation covered with silvery white and scaly skin.
Also known as inverse psoriasis, this condition appears as smooth but inflamed patches of skin. It usually occurs in skin folds and more particularly around the genitals, armpits, under an overweight stomach and under the breasts.
This condition is characterized by numerous small and oval spots. Such spots usually appear over the large areas of the body such as the trunk, limbs and scalp.
This form of psoriasis appears as raised bumps, filled with non-infectious pus. The skin under and surrounding this area is red and tender. Though it normally occurs in the hands and feet, yet it can be seen throughout the body.
Also known as psoriatic nail dystrophy, this condition can be seen frequently and impacts fingernails and toenails. The changes can include discoloring under the nail plate, pitting of nails, thickening of the skin under the nail and loosening or crumbling of the nail.
This form of psoriasis involves joint and connective tissue inflammation. Though it can affect any of the joints in the body, yet it is most common in the joints of the fingers and toes. It usually results in a sausage-shaped swelling of the fingers and toes, also known as dactylitis.
This form of the disease manifests itself in a widespread inflammation and exfoliation of the skin across most of the body surface. Usual symptoms include severe itching, swelling and even pain.
Causes of Psoriasis
Opinions of researchers generally vary on the precise causes of psoriasis. However, it is still possible to group them under two main categories:
Psoriasis is often regarded as an immune-mediated condition. This basically means that it is caused by faulty signals that are present in the body’s immune system, indicating to the body to over-react and accelerate the growth of skin cells.
The genetic make-up of some individuals has also been found to be associated with the development of psoriasis. The chances of developing psoriasis dramatically increase when a close blood relative suffers from this disease.
Psoriasis is generally caused by a set of triggers that inflame the condition, either to a small extent or full-blown disease.
There are a number of skin conditions and infections which can further trigger an episode of psoriasis. The main skin conditions and infections include:
- Candida albicans
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Staphylococcal skin infections (boils)
- Strep throat
- Viral upper respiratory condition
Reaction to medication
A number of medications has also been found to trigger psoriasis in some patients. These include:
- Anti-malarial drugs
- Indomethacin, the nonsteroidal medication used to treat arthritis
New lesions generally appear after suffering from a skin injury or wound. Besides, stress and variable climatic conditions are also known to set off psoriasis in some cases.
Various treatment modalities adopted for relief from psoriasis fall in three main categories as indicated below:
- Topical – comprises of applications on the skin and is usually ideal for mild to moderate psoriasis.
- Phototherapy – involves the application of ultraviolet light to the skin and is useful for moderate to severe psoriasis.
- Systemic – administered orally or by injection or infusion and is applicable for moderate, severe or disabling psoriasis.
If you suspect having any of the early signs of psoriasis, you should check with a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.
In medical terminology, skin cancer is defined as the uncontrolled and malignant growth of skin cells found in the outer layers of the skin. Skin cancer most often develops on the skin exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common and prominent sign of skin cancer is a change in the appearance of the skin which can present itself as a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal within the expected time span.
The most common signs and symptoms of skin cancer include:
- Crabs and ulcers in the skin.
- Changes in existing moles.
- Appearance of a raised, smooth and pearly bump on the sun-exposed parts of the head, neck or shoulders. This is normally the case when there is a development of basal cell carcinoma.
- Development of a red, scaling, thickened patch on the sun-exposed areas of the skin, accompanied by ulceration and bleeding. This is most commonly the case when the squamous cell carcinoma begins to develop.
- Development of brown to black looking lesions called melanomas. A significant change in the size, shape, color or elevation of the mole is the most important sign of the development of this type of skin cancer.
Chronic inflammation of the skin is by and large accepted as the primary cause of skin cancer. Here is a list of the main causes and risk factors that can trigger the development of skin cancer.
Excessive sunburn or sun damage is considered quite hazardous, especially if it happens in the early years of life. Research stresses the role of UVA and UVB in causing DNA damage, consequently causing cancer.
Chronic burns and wounds which are unhealed can predispose you to the risk of developing skin cancer. Known as the Marjolin’s ulcers, such injuries can actually lead to the development of squamous cell carcinoma.
Types of Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common form of skin cancer. In fact, the basal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the U.S. This particular type of skin cancer almost never spreads to the other parts of the body. However, they can definitely cause damage by growing and consequently attacking the surrounding tissue as well.
Most commonly affected individuals include those with a light-colored skin and also undergoing prolonged exposure to the sun. The most common areas of the body to be affected include the chest, back, arms, legs and scalp.
It is important to know that the basal cell carcinoma usually begins as a small, dome-shaped bump and is mostly covered by small and superficial blood vessels which are called telangiectases. This spot is usually shiny and translucent, often referred to as ‘pearly’.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
This particular form of cancer begins in the squamous cells which are the thin and flat cells that appear like fish scales under microscope. These cells are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin along with the lining of the hollow organs of the body and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.
This type of cancer occurs roughly one-quarter as often as the basal cell carcinoma. As in the case of basal cell carcinoma, the most commonly affected individuals are those with a light-colored skin and history of prolonged exposure to the sun. In addition, men are also more prone to be affected by this type of cancer than women.
The above two forms of cancer are also referred to as the non-melanoma skin cancer. The most common methods of treatment of these types of cancer include:
- Curettage and desiccation
- Surgical excision
- Radiation therapy
- Mohs micrographic surgery
While these types of skin cancer are generally not fatal, but it is important to cure them early on to prevent further damage. Also, these forms of cancer rarely metastasize to other parts of the body.
Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer that begins in the skin cells known as melanocytes. These melanocytes are basically the cells that produce melanin, which further give the skin its natural color. It is the cluster of these melanocytes and surrounding tissue that form noncancerous growths which are known as moles.
This form of cancer primarily occurs when melanocytes or these pigment cells become malignant. The condition is known as cutaneous melanoma when it starts in the skin. This form of cancer can also occur in the eyes or the meninges. When it spreads, this type of cancer usually shows up nearby the lymph nodes.
The patients suffering from melanoma can usually opt for one or more of the treatments listed below:
- Biological therapy
- Radiation therapy
You should regularly check for signs of skin cancer throughout the year as early detection of these signs improves the outlook of skin cancer.