Generally ichthyosis is inherited due to a particular faulty gene from parents. This gene affects the rate at which the skin regenerates. Either the shedding of old skin cells is too slow, or the skin cells reproduce at a much faster rate than they can shed old skin. One way or the other, the dead cells accumulate in thick, dry scales on your skin’s surface.
The scales of ichthyosis vulgaris, sometimes called fish scale disease or fish skin disease, can be present at birth, but usually first appear during early childhood. Sometimes, mild cases of ichthyosis vulgaris go undiagnosed, because they’re mistaken for extremely dry skin.
Most cases of the conditions are mild, but some are severe. Sometimes other skin diseases, such as the allergic skin condition eczema, are associated with it.
About the disease
All types of ichthyosis cause dry, scaly skin, but this manifests slightly differently, depending on which type you have. It can affect all races and both sexes.
Signs from birth
Symptoms would appear within the first year of life with the following characteristics:
• Gradually the skin becomes dry, rough and scaly, usually before the age of one.
• The bends of the elbows, knees, and the face are not usually affected.
• Limbs may develop fine, light grey scales.
• The skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet may have more lines than normal, and thicken.
• The child often also has eczema.
It tends to develop in adulthood, and is not inherited. It’s usually associated with another disease such as:
• Kidney disease
• Sarcoidosis (a rare disease that causes clumps of cells to form in the organs)
• Lymphoma (a type of cancer)
• HIV infection
Symptoms usually worsen or are more pronounced in cold, dry environments. On the other hand, they tend to improve or even resolve in warm, humid environments.
Some people with ichthyosis may experience:
• Overheating – In rare cases, the skin’s thickness and the scales can interfere with sweating. This can inhibit cooling.
• Secondary infection – Skin splitting and cracking may lead to infections.
When to see a doctor
If you suspect you or your child has ichthyosis, talk to your family doctor or a dermatologist. He or she can diagnose the condition by examining the characteristic scales. Also, be sure to seek medical advice if the symptoms worsen or doesn’t improve with self-care measures. You may need stronger medication to manage the condition.
Treatments and drugs
There’s no known cure for ichthyosis, so the goal of treatment is to manage the condition.
Treatment can include prescription creams and ointments that contain acids that help control the scaling and increase skin moisture.Your doctor may prescribe these vitamin A-derived medications in severe cases. They reduce the production of skin cells.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although self-help measures won’t cure ichthyosis, they may help improve the appearance and feel of damaged skin. Consider these measures to help:
• Soak in the bath where possible to soften the skin. Then use a rough-textured sponge, such as a loofah sponge, to remove the thickened scales.
• Choose mild soaps that have added oils and fats. Avoid strongly scented and antibacterial soaps, which are especially harsh on dry skin.
• After showering, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel, so that some moisture remains on the skin.
• Apply moisturising cream while your skin is still moist from bathing. Choose a moisturiser that contains urea or propylene glycol chemicals that help keep your skin moist. Petroleum jelly is another good choice. Cover the treated areas with plastic wrap to keep the petroleum jelly from staining clothes and furniture.
• Apply an over-the-counter product that contains urea, lactic acid or a low concentration of salicylic acid twice daily. Mild acidic compounds help your skin shed its dead cells, while urea helps bind moisture.
• Use a portable home humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!