Causes of Dry Skin
Aging, and its resulting changes in hormone levels, is a common cause of dry skin. In addition, certain diseases or environmental factors may cause the skin to become excessively dry.
Disease Conditions That Cause Dry Skin
Skin dryness may be caused by several skin disorders, including contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, psoriasis, and ichthyosis, a genetic disorder causing a dry scaly appearance to the skin. There may be difficulty at first in distinguishing early symptoms of these conditions from more ordinary dry skin.
Eczema can usually be diagnosed because of the locations of the affected areas which are usually on the face, sides of the neck, and the backs of the elbow and knees. Psoriasis and ichthyosis, on the other hand, present as accumulations of rough scaly skin cells on many areas of the body. All three skin disorders result in more severe symptoms than simple dry skin and often cause psychological problems, due to altered appearance, as well as medical ones.
Other diseases, such as certain endocrine or autoimmune disorders may also result in dry skin. These include hypothroidism, diabetes and Sjogren's disease. Certain medications may also cause dry skin.
Environmental Factors That Cause Dry Skin
Some of the environmental factors that may cause the skin to dry out include:
- Exposure to hot or cold weather
- Long hot showers
- Dry indoor heat
- Harsh soaps, shampoos or detergents
- Particular dyes or chemicals
- Sun exposure
Treatments for Dry Skin
For most people, the tightness, itchiness and general discomfort of dry skin are relatively easy to alleviate. Simple lifestyle changes, like covering oneself appropriately against cold weather, wearing protective sunscreen, avoiding hot showers or baths, using moisturizing creams, particularly immediately after bathing, and humidifying the surrounding air, can be sufficient. Products with petroleum jelly are especially useful in eliminating dry skin since they provide an effective barrier to moisture. Products with fragrance are to be avoided since they may further dry out the skin.
If a particular substance, material or medication is found to be causing the skin irritation, avoiding it can make a tremendous difference. For more severe cases of skin dryness, stronger creams or ointments may be prescribed by the physician. There is also some scientific evidence that taking a fish oil supplement may improve the condition of dry skin.
Psoriasis encompasses a group of chronic skin disorders that cause an itching and/or burning sensation, scaling and crusting of the skin. Over seven million men and women in the U.S. of all ages have some form of psoriasis, which may be mild, moderate or severe. The most commonly affected areas are the scalp, elbows, knees, hands, feet and genitals.
Psoriasis cannot be cured but it can be treated successfully, sometimes for months or years at a time and occasionally even permanently. Treatment depends on the type, severity and location of psoriasis; the patient’s age, medical history and lifestyle; and the effect the disease has on the patient’s general mental health. The most common treatments are topical medications, phototherapy and oral or injectable medication (for severe symptoms).
Biologics are a class of medications that have become an important treatment option for people with moderate to severe Psoriasis.
A doctor may prescribe a biologic medication for a person whose psoriasis is moderate to severe, cannot be controlled effectively with other psoriasis treatments, or cannot tolerate other psoriasis medications because of side effects.
Rosacea is a chronic skin disease that causes redness and swelling on the face. The scalp, neck, ears, chest, back and/or eyes may also be affected. Symptoms range from red pimples, lines and visible blood vessels to dry or burning skin and a tendency to flush easily. Many people find that the emotional effects of rosacea – such as low self-confidence and avoidance of social situations – are more difficult to handle than the physical ones. Although it can affect anyone, rosacea typically appears in light-skinned, light-haired adults aged 30-50. It is not yet known what causes rosacea and the disease is not curable, although it can be treated with topical and oral medications, laser therapy or laser surgery.
Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the herpes virus responsible for chickenpox. Once an individual has been infected with chickenpox, this virus lies dormant within the body's nerve tissue. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles, often after another illness or during a period of great stress. Advancing age and immune deficiency disorders are also risk factors for shingles. Shingles most commonly presents as a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters wrapping around the back and chest, typically affecting only one side of the body. It is possible, however, for patients to have shingles with only a very mild rash or even no rash at all. Early treatment for shingles may minimize symptoms and prevent complications.
Symptoms of Shingles
Since shingles affects the nerves, patients may experience a wide variety of sensations at the affected site, including:
- Shooting pain
Additional symptoms of the disorder may include headache, fever, fatigue and body aches. The shingles rash usually lasts for several weeks to as much as a month. For most individuals, the pain lessens as the rash heals. Some patients, however, experience long-term nerve pain after a case of shingles, pain which may linger for more than a year.
Diagnosis of Shingles
Shingles is commonly diagnosed through an examination of the rash and a review of the patient's symptoms. If blisters are present at the time of the examination, the doctor may take a sample of fluid for a laboratory culture.
Treatment of Shingles
Treatment of shingles usually consists of the use of analgesics and antiviral medications. Antiviral medications may include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax)
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
- Famciclovir (Famvir)
Since shingles may cause significant pain and discomfort, the following medications may also be recommended to relieve painful symptoms:
- Capsaicin cream
- Lidocaine ointment
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Corticosteroid and local anesthetic injections
While shingles is not a life-threatening disease, it can be extremely painful and interfere greatly with normal activities and quality of life. A shingles vaccine is now available and recommended for individuals age 60 and older. While not preventative of the reactivation of the shingles virus in all cases, it has been demonstrated to greatly reduce the risk of an outbreak, as well as to lessen the severity of the disease should it occur.