Understanding Rosacea

Pimples, a constantly flushed complexion, prominent blood vessels, and a bulbous nose – if you’re familiar with any combination of these symptoms, chances are good that you may have rosacea. You wouldn’t be alone. Approximately 14 million people in the US and millions more worldwide have this persistent and trying skin condition. Often referred to as “adult acne,” rosacea is actually a chronic inflammation of the face. Its cause is unknown, and there is no permanent cure.

What Does Rosacea Look Like?

There are different forms of rosacea, and its appearance can range from mild to severe. All forms of rosacea have at least one of the three primary symptoms: redness, pimples, or an enlarged ruddy nose. A person with rosacea may have just one symptom, a combination of two symptoms, or all three.

There are four main types of rosacea:

  1. “Red face” rosacea. A person with this type of rosacea is described as being prone to facial flushing or blushing. This can progress to chronic redness of the nose or central face.
  2. Papulopustular rosacea (acne rosacea). This is the type of rosacea often referred to as “adult acne,” and to the naked eye, both conditions can appear the same. A dermatologist can distinguish rosacea acne from “true acne” to determine the best treatment options. For more information on the differences, see the skinmatters blog Q&A by Dr. Markus Ramsey, a dermatologist who has worked with many rosacea patients.  
  3. Rhinophyma (abnormal appearing nose). This type of rosacea is identified by the slow enlargement of oil glands and skin thickening of the nose. People with rhinophyma are usually described as having a large, bulbous, ruddy (reddish colored) nose. This type of rosacea affects men more than women. And while heavy alcohol consumption can aggravate rhinophyma, it is not the cause of the condition.
  4. Ocular rosacea (eye problems). This type of rosacea may occur before skin changes are seen. A burning or gritty feeling of the eyes may be present with reddening of the eyes and lids.

Rosacea can range from mild (occasional blushing and pimples) to extremely severe (all the symptoms listed above).

Who Is Most Likely to Get Rosacea?

Adults between 30 and 60 are most often affected by rosacea. It is more common in women and in fair-skinned individuals, although dark-skinned people may also be affected as well as individuals with Mediterranean skin types. Women tend to develop rosacea at a younger age than men. The rhinophyma type of rosacea (swollen oil glands in the nose) is an exception, in that men are more likely to develop this particular form of rosacea than women. In most people, rosacea comes and goes periodically. In others it gets worse with time.

Where Does Rosacea Occur?

Rosacea is usually limited to the central facial area and/or eyes. This central facial area includes the nose, cheeks, brow, and chin. However, in some cases it may extend through the neck and chest area.

What Can I Do if I Have Rosacea?

While no one knows for certain what causes rosacea, there are certain triggers that seem to activate it, specifically, things that increase blood flow to the face – sunlight, hot drinks, spicy foods, alcohol, exercise, hot baths or saunas, temperature extremes, and emotional stress. With this knowledge, the best way to treat rosacea is to manage your lifestyle and reduce stress, alcohol consumption, and exposure to heat as much as possible. Any actions you can take to reduce exposure to these triggers will help. Cool compresses after heat exposure, sun screen, and protection from the elements are a few examples.

Your dermatologist can also provide many therapy options. Treatment really depends on the types of rosacea symptoms that you have. Someone with rhinophyma (bulbous nose) requires a different type of treatment than someone with pimples or visible facial blood vessels. To learn more, visit the skinmatters blog posts on Rosacea Symptoms and Treatments and Understanding Acne Rosacea, or see the general entry for Rosacea in Adults.

Published on 04/11/2012 | Last updated on 12/20/2016