Ichthyosis Vulgaris

Ichthyosis vulgaris, commonly known as ichthyosis, is a hereditary skin condition in which dead skin cells accumulate to form thick, dry scales on the surface of the skin. Sometimes known as fish scale disease, ichthyosis may be visible at birth, but more commonly develops in early childhood. Sometimes associated with other allergic skin problems, such as eczema, ichthyosis is treated symptomatically since no cure for the condition has yet been found. While this disease can be unsightly and somewhat uncomfortable, it is not serious and causes no other known health complications. In most cases, the condition resolves in adulthood, though it may occasionally recur.

Causes Of Ichthyosis

Ichthyosis is a relatively common skin disorder which can be inherited from an abnormal gene in only one parent. When children inherit defective genes from both parents, they are likely to have a more severe case of the disease. Ichthyosis is caused by a slowing of the natural shedding of the body’s uppermost layer of skin cells (keratin).

Though much less common than the hereditary disorder, there is also an acquired form of ichthyosis that develops in adulthood. Acquired ichthyosis is typically associated with other illnesses, such as cancer, thyroid disease of HIV/AIDS.

Symptoms Of Ichthyosis

The symptoms of ichthyosis are more apparent in the winter, frequently accompanied by other skin irritations, such as keratosis pilaris which causes small bumps on the back of the arms. Symptoms of ichthyosis include:

  • Dry, rough, or thick skin
  • Scaly or itchy skin
  • Flaky scalp
  • Skin with a tile-like appearance
  • Discolored skin
  • Skin with deep, painful cracks

The condition is typically more noticeable on the legs and elbows, but may also occur on the arms, hands and torso. It tends to improve in a warm, humid environment. More serious symptoms can occur if bacteria enter cracks or cuts, causing infection. Patients with ichthyosis should be on the lookout for such complications.

Diagnosis Of Ichthyosis

This skin condition is normally diagnosed by observation of its telltale scales. In some cases, though, tests, such as biopsies, may be performed to rule out other skin disorders. A family history that includes similar skin dryness helps to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment Of Ichthyosis

Treatment of this disorder always includes the use of strong moisturizers. Creams and ointments, which adhere to the skin for a longer period, are preferred to lotions. Patients are advised to use mild, fragrance-free soaps and to apply moisturizers right after bathing or showering. Other products that may be recommended and prescribed for ichthyosis include:

  • Lactic and glycolic acid
  • Salicylic acid and urea
  • Creams and ointments to control scaling
  • Medications derived from vitamin A (retinoids)

Retinoids may result in dangerous side effects, such as birth defects when taken by pregnant women, so their use should be carefully discussed with the dermatologist.

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