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Ichthyosis: Facts, Symptoms and Treatment

  • Published: 2009-12-13 (Revised/Updated 2017-06-25) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Ichthyosis is severe and persistent problems with dry skin that often begins in either infancy or childhood.

"Ichthyosis," is the name that has been given to describe severe and persistent problems a person experiences with dry skin that nearly always begins in either infancy or childhood.

(Plural ichthyoses) - A heterogeneous family of at least 28, generalized, mostly genetic skin disorders. All types of ichthyosis have dry, thickened, scaly or flaky skin. In many types there is cracked skin, which is said to resemble the scales on a fish. The severity of symptoms can vary enormously, from the mildest, most common, type such as ichthyosis vulgaris which may be mistaken for normal dry skin up to life-threatening conditions such as harlequin type ichthyosis. Ichtyosis vulgaris accounts for more than 95% of cases.

Ichthyosis may be genetic, meaning that it is inherited, or it can develop later in a person's life. For the majority of people who experience the disease, the cause is related to one or more genetic mutations.

A person's body usually continuously renews its skin surface. It builds new skin cells, allowing cells that are older to be shed from the surface. Ichthyosis interferes with this balance, either because the person's skin creates too many skin cells, or because their skin cells do not separate appropriately from the surface of their skin when it is time for them to be shed. Accumulation of skin cells into thick flakes which adhere to the person's body, resembling fish scales are the results.

The disease many times causes severe cosmetic concerns for people who experience the condition. Ichthyosis is not; however, contagious. The disease may also interfere with the person's skin and its ability to protect against infection, regulate body temperature, and prevent dehydration. The majority of people who are affected by Ichthyosis have a form of it known as, 'Ichthyosis vulgaris,' the mildest form, which occurs in about one out of every two-hundred and fifty people.

Symptoms of Ichthyosis

A person's skin may present with various patterns of flaking, depending upon the type of gene abnormality that causes Ichthyosis. For most people who have the disease, their skin will flake over most of their body, yet not on the inside of their joint surfaces, to include their groin area or their face. The symptoms of all genetic forms of Ichthyosis are noticeable at the time a person is born, or during childhood.

These symptoms can include the following:

The symptoms associated with Ichthyosis are commonly worse during the winter months, as well as in dry climates. Warmth and humidity improve the symptoms of the disease. A number of people who have Ichthyosis vulgaris also experience problems with allergies, such as asthma, eczema, or allergic nasal congestion.

Diagnosing Ichthyosis

Health care professionals can usually diagnose Ichthyosis simply by observing a person's skin, although the person's family history is helpful as well. A skin biopsy, in some cases, is something that may be done in order to confirm the diagnosis. A skin biopsy involves the removal of a small piece of skin, which is then examined under a microscope. On rare occasion, genetic testing may be done to assist in reaching a diagnosis of the disease.

The majority of people who experience Ichthyosis will continue to experience it for the remainder of their lives. At times, adult-onset Ichthyosis happens in association with a disease. If the disease is treated, the Ichthyosis might disappear. For most people who have the disease, the symptoms are something that can be controlled. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent Ichthyosis. Like other forms of genetic diseases, there is also a risk that children of a parent who is affected will inherit the gene.

Treating Ichthyosis

The treatment of every form of Ichthyosis involves restoration of the person's skin moisture, as well as facilitation of more aggressive shedding of dead skin cells. People with the disease may choose to visit a dermatologist on a regular basis to help with Ichthyosis should it cause them severe symptoms. Use of moisture-retaining creams or ointments after bathing or showering can help people affected by the disease to keep moisture within their skin's surface. Products that contain lanolin, urea, or petrolatum are very helpful in maintenance of skin moisture.

There are creams or lotions containing medicines which promote the shedding of skin flakes. These creams or lotions contain lactic acid or other alphahydroxy acids. People affected by Ichthyosis may need to use antibiotics on occasion if scratching causes a skin infection, or if body odor becomes a major problem. It is important for people with the disease to contact a health care provider if they develop either a fever, or redness of the skin, because Ichthyosis may make their skin a less-effective barrier to infection.

Ichthyosis is something that is very manageable with effective and continued treatment. Some types of the disease improve after the person grows out of childhood. There are some forms of the disease the may be life-threatening, even in infancy, should the person's skin problems become severe.

Facts: Ichthyosis

Statistics: Ichthyosis

There are widely accepted incidence figures for the common forms of ichthyosis, ichthyosis vulgaris, and X-linked

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