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What is Rosacea?

Dr. Nancy Shannon

Medically reviewed by Dr. Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD on June 21, 2021

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that affects over 400 million people worldwide. The symptoms usually associated with rosacea can be very similar to the symptoms of other common skin issues, such as acne. For that reason, it can be difficult to know exactly what rosacea looks like and what you can do about it. Here’s what you need to know:

How is rosacea identified?

Though there are several distinct types of rosacea, there are still some common identifiers that can help you determine whether or not you have the condition. Rosacea, as the name suggests, is most commonly identified through persistent redness on the face, especially the cheeks and nose. This redness can resemble flushing, blushing, or a sunburn that refuses to go away. This redness can be accompanied by feelings of warmth or heat as well as by breakouts of small red bumps or pimple-like pustules, though it may also come and go without any other noticeable effects.

Another common characteristic of rosacea is thickening of the skin over time. The irritation that often accompanies rosacea agitates the oil-producing sebaceous glands in the skin’s pores. Over time, the sebaceous glands can swell, causing a thickening of the skin known as phyma. This thickening is especially common on the nose, where it is known as rhinophyma. The thickening process happens slowly over time, so seeing a few bumps or thicker patches of skin doesn’t mean that further thickening is inevitable. 

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Other Common Rosacea Symptoms

Rosacea can impact those who have it in very different ways, so not all people with rosacea will experience all of its symptoms. That being said, if you’re experiencing several of the following symptoms, there’s a good chance that rosacea may be the cause.

  • Visible Blood Vessels

Extended flare-ups of rosacea can irritate the skin to such a point that the blood vessels underneath will start to thicken, swell up, and become visible. These can appear as small red dots, large patches of redness, or vein-line red lines across the skin’s surface. 

  • Irritated, Red Eyes

Many people with rosacea also develop ocular rosacea, irritation and redness on and around the eyes. This can cause the eye itself to appear bloodshot, but it also affects the area surrounding the eyes, causing styes and swollen eyelids. Ocular rosacea, like other forms of rosacea, does not generally result in any severe consequences, though those suffering from severe cases may risk cornea damage if they do not seek treatment.

  • Skin Sensitivity

Unsurprisingly, the impacts of rosacea on the skin can leave it feeling raw. Though a general sensitivity is common, some people with rosacea might also experience unusually dry and scaly skin as well, particularly in the time immediately before or after a flare-up. Other symptoms can include itching, burning, or stinging of the facial skin. 

  • Acne-like Blemishes

Rosacea can sometimes be accompanied by acne-like breakouts, making it particularly difficult to distinguish between the two. While the breakouts are not actually traditional acne, the irritation and pustules that form on the surface can strongly resemble pimples. Rosacea-related acne breakouts do not include any blackheads and will generally appear atop the red-tinged parts of the face. 

What causes rosacea?

Diagnosing rosacea may be difficult, but it’s nothing compared to determining what causes it in the first place. There are some strong commonalities among people who suffer from rosacea — most usually have fair skin and a Northern European heritage — but precise causes remain elusive to researchers.

There may be a genetic basis to rosacea: rosacea often runs in families, and two areas of the human genome were linked to incidences of rosacea by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine in 2015. Even so, more research is needed to determine exactly what causes rosacea in people who have the genetic predisposition for it. Large populations of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori and the common mite Demodex. folliculorum that live on the face have also been linked to rosacea, but a clear causal relationship has yet to be established.

What causes rosacea in general may be somewhat mysterious, but most people who suffer from it are capable of identifying certain behavioral, consumptive, or environmental triggers that can cause a flare-up. Some of the most common triggers include things like:

  • Sun exposure or sunburn
  • Weather that is especially hot or cold
  • Stress
  • Hot baths or showers
  • Certain foods, like spicy foods, hot drinks, alcohol, and chocolate

If you’re hoping to prevent flare-ups of your own, start keeping track of your behaviours around the time of one. If you notice any common patterns, try cutting out the things that may be triggering your rosacea to see if there’s an improvement.

If you’re having difficulty navigating the ins and outs of rosacea, get in contact with a member of our team of providers here at Nurx today. As frustrating as rosacea can be, there are treatment options out there for you — and we can help you find them.

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