Patchy skin, dark spots, boils, dis-colouration and easy tanning of the skin may not always lead to acne and pimples.
Instead, lurking behind these conditions, one may come across scarier illnesses. Most often than not, skin problems can be a biological tap on your shoulder for other grave health conditions.
Acanthosis nigricans is a condition presenting as dark brown to black, velvety patches of skin in body folds such as under eyes, neck, underarms, groin, elbows, knees and fingers. It may be familiar, and the condition worsens with weight gain. It is commonly associated with diabetes (type 2) and polycystic ovarian syndrome. In rare cases it can be a sign of lung, esophageal or breast cancer.
Molluscum contagiosum is a viral infection of the skin, appearing as pearly bumps on the skin. It may resemble pimples or milia (tiny cysts in the skin). It spreads by skin-to-skin contact. It is commonly seen in children, but it can also be seen in adults where it can be sexually transmitted. Although it is a benign infection it needs to be treated due to its contagious nature.
Warts are small, rough, cauliflower-shaped growths seen on the arms and legs (although they can occur anywhere on the skin), in both children and adults. They are caused by a viral infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Warts on genitals and anal areas can be sexually transmitted. They are contagious and need to be treated even though they are benign. Certain types of HPV have been associated with cancer of the cervix, mouth and anus.
Varicella or chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Typically, it causes a blistering skin rash which heals with scabs and marks; along with fever and weakness. Less frequently it can infect the lungs and the brain; which could be fatal. In adults, it can run a severe course and leave behind disfiguring blemishes and scars. It is a common (and highly risky) perception to allow chickenpox to run its course and treat it with home remedies, in view of its potentially serious consequences. With the availability of safe and highly effective antivirals every case of chickenpox should be treated at the onset of the first blister.
Tanned skin – Easy tanning without much sun exposure could be a sign of vitamin B-12 deficiency, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), or underactive adrenal gland (Addison’s disease).
Phrynoderma or ‘toad skin’ is commonly seen in children and presents with tiny skin-coloured bumps on the arms, elbows and knees. The skin may be dry and flaky. Phrynoderma indicates a deficiency of vitamin A or essential fatty acids resulting from poor nutrition. In adults, it may be seen in those on a strict weight-loss regimen or in those who have bariatric surgery.
Acne or pimples is a very common skin problem that is ignored (by parents usually) as it is considered a part of growing up. However, untreated acne can lead to permanent scarring and disfigurement of the face, resulting in embarrassment, social withdrawal and depression. Severe acne, treatment-resistant acne can be a sign of hormonal imbalance in girls. With the availability of safe and effective oral and topical medications, acne can be effectively treated.
Xanthelasma are sharply demarcated yellowish-white deposits of fat on or around the eyelids. They are benign, and may be hereditary. They may indicate high blood cholesterol; hence a lipid profile test should be done to rule it out.
Rosacea is a skin disease that manifests as an easy tendency to blush or flush easily with or without acne-like breakouts, large pores and a coarse skin texture. Skin may be very sensitive and sting and burn. Stress, sunlight, spicy foods, alcohol and many skin care products can aggravate or trigger rosacea. Rosacea can last for long in the form of recurring flare-ups. Left untreated it can cause darkening of face; coarse, rubbery texture of the skin and a large bulbous nose (rhinophyma).
Topical steroid-induced dermatoses – These are skin problems that arise due to unchecked use of strong steroid creams without the dermatologist’s supervision. Severe acne, facial hair growth in women, skin thinning, visible blood vessels, stretch marks and fungal infections are some of the conditions that arise due to prolonged steroid cream use.
Exogenous ochronosis – This is a skin condition in which there is paradoxical darkening of the skin due to unchecked prolonged use of the skin lightening medication called ‘hydroquinone’. Hydroquinone is commonly present in skin lightening creams and is safe for short durations. This medication deposits as tiny brown crystals in the skin on prolonged use. It is a very difficult condition to treat and may require advanced treatments such as lasers. Therefore, do not use creams prescribed by doctors beyond the recommended duration of time.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer of the skin. Although Indians have a much lesser risk of the deadly skin cancer, melanoma; BCC is seen frequently. The face is the most common site. Sun exposure is the most important risk factor for BCC. It begins as skin-colored to yellowish dome shaped growth, which may form a wound (rodent ulcer) which bleeds easily and does not heal. So a new mole developing after your 40s should be checked out by a dermatologist.
Yellow nails are commonly caused due to fungal infection of the nail or uncommonly by psoriasis or eczema of the nail. It is important to identify and treat fungal nail infections because longer courses of antifungal medications are needed to eradicate the fungus. Left untreated or inadequately treated it can cause repeated fungal infections of the skin. Green-colored nails are sign of infection with the Pseudomonas bacteria, which occurs due to prolonged exposure to water. Flat, spoon-shaped, pale-colored nails are a sign of iron deficiency.
Androgenetic alopecia (AGA) or male-pattern baldness or common balding develops in males due to genetic factors. It can cause a great degree of stress among young men with early onset hair loss. Previously, due to non-availability of any treatments to stop the progression of baldness, men used to accept it as a part of ageing. However, with the availability of safe and effective medications the progression of balding can be stopped or greatly slowed down. Remember, it is easier to prevent balding than to re-grow hair. Results are best when treatments are started early on.
Scalp hygiene is commonly ignored. It is a myth that frequent shampooing causes hair fall. In fact, infrequent shampooing can lead to accumulation of oil, sweat and grime. This can irritate the scalp making it itchy, and cause hair fall. So in tropical climates men should shampoo daily and women at least on alternate days.
(Data Courtesy: Dr. Rickson Pereira, M.D. (Dermatology, Venereology & Leprosy), F.C.P.S. (Dermatology & Venereology) D.D.V (CPS), M.B.B.S, Consulting Dermatologist, Dr. Minal’s Dermatherapie Centre)