Note: All links within content go to MayoClinic.com
Diseases and Conditions
Special to CNN.com
Rosacea is an inflammatory skin disease that causes facial redness. You may mistake some of its characteristics — small, red, pus-filled bumps or pustules — for acne. In fact, rosacea has been called adult acne or acne rosacea, but the disease has little to do with the pimples and blackheads that commonly afflict teenagers. It's also a misconception that this red-faced condition is caused by drinking alcoholic beverages.
Rosacea affects mostly adults, usually people with fair skin, between the ages of 30 and 60. About 14 million Americans have this chronic skin condition. Although it's more common in women, men may develop more apparent signs of the disorder. It's not life-threatening, but it can affect your appearance and lower your self-esteem.
Left untreated, rosacea tends to be progressive, which means it gets worse over time. However, in most people rosacea is cyclic, which means it may flare up for a period of weeks to months and then signs and symptoms lessen for a while before rosacea flares up again. Besides acne, rosacea can also be mistaken for other skin problems, such as skin allergy or eczema. Once diagnosed, it's quite treatable.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms of rosacea include:
Rosacea usually appears in phases:
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 (rhinophyma). This complication is much more common in men and develops very slowly over a period of years.
In addition, more than half the 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.
The cause of rosacea is unknown, but researchers believe it's likely due to some combination of hereditary and environmental factors.
Several theories exist as to what causes rosacea. One theory is that a blood vessel disorder causes vessels in the face to swell. Another is that the cause of rosacea is a chronic bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal system caused by a Helicobacter pylori infection. Some researchers have suggested that tiny mites (Demodex folliculorum) living in human hair follicles may play a role by clogging up sebaceous gland openings. Most people with rosacea have sun-damaged skin which may also play a contributing role. None of these theories has been conclusively proved, however.
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.
Although the exact cause of rosacea remains a mystery, a number of factors can aggravate it or make it worse by increasing blood flow to the surface of your skin. Some of these include:
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 the earlier they're started.
Although 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 self-care measures 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.
Oral antibiotics also are prescribed because they tend to work faster than topical ones. In many cases, dermatologists first prescribe both oral and topical antibiotics to lessen signs and symptoms, followed by long-term use of a topical antibiotic alone to maintain remission. Some of the most common prescription oral antibiotics include tetracycline, minocycline, doxycycline and erythromycin.
Your doctor may treat ocular rosacea with oral antibiotics.
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.
In addition to getting treatment from your doctor, you can play an active part in your treatment. One of the most important things you can do if you have rosacea is to minimize your exposure to anything that causes a flare-up. Because everyone is different, find out what factors affect you so that you can avoid them. Keeping a running list of your own flare-up triggers might help you identify the things that are a problem for you.
Here are other suggestions for preventing flare-ups:
November 17, 2006