In our technological age, information feels like a comforting blanket, and this is especially true when it comes to medical information. For many people, when they begin experiencing new or unusual symptoms, their first move is to go online: they want to know as quickly as possible what they’re dealing with, how serious it is, and where it came from. While it’s always good to be mindful of your health and to take note if something is “off,” our medical staff at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA) always cautions patients against self-diagnosis. Because so many skin conditions have similar visual symptoms, patients who attempt to self-diagnose often diagnose incorrectly, which can cause them to try ineffective, expensive, or sometimes medically unsafe treatments. Below are three skin conditions that are commonly mistaken for other conditions:
What it is: An over-production of melanin (which gives the skin its color) causing patches of skin that are darker than the patient’s natural skin color. This includes the pigmented patches that we often call age spots.
What causes it: Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Over-exposure to the sun over time
- Hormones – specifically, estrogen and progesterone may lead to hyperpigmentation in women who are either pregnant or are taking birth control, or
- Inflammation – hyperpigmentation may manifest after inflammation from conditions like acne, poorly-administered chemical peels, or certain aggressive laser skin treatments.
- Injuries – even minor skin injuries like a cut can result in a hyperpigmented scar when exposed to the sun
Symptoms to look for: Blotchy patches of skin that are darker than your natural skin color, especially on the face, chin, cheeks, forehead, upper lip, hands, chest, or legs.
Possible treatments: Depending on the specific conditions of your hyperpigmentation, as well as your skin type and many other factors, one of our providers at DAA will put together a treatment plan that may involve skin-lightening creams, laser skin resurfacing, laser treatments that target the pigmented patches, or chemical or natural peels at Skin Medics™ Medical Spa. However, it’s ideal to simply prevent hyperpigmentation in the first place whenever possible, and the best way to do that is by wearing sunscreen any time your skin is exposed to the sun.
What it is: A chronic skin condition involving irritated, inflamed, and itchy patches of skin.
What causes it: The cause of eczema is not yet known, but observations have sparked theories involving immune overreactions, an especially sensitive dermis (the underlying layer of skin), genetics, household and beauty products, certain chemicals and foods, specific living organisms, fabrics, and the environment.
Symptoms to look for: Irritated, itchy, inflamed skin. Symptoms are not necessarily constant but flare up from time to time.
Possible treatments: Eczema is rarely able to be eliminated completely, so typically the best course of action is to treat symptoms as they arise. Eczema varies considerably from patient to patient, so one of our highly skilled providers will likely prescribe one or more of the following treatments: antihistamines (if the eczema is allergy-related), creams and customized prescription compounds, laser treatments, lukewarm baths, cold compresses, or using certain soaps and cleansers. However, as soon as your eczema symptoms arise, it is important to avoid scratching. Scratching can not only exacerbate symptoms, but can cause skin breakage which can easily lead to an infection.
What it is: A chronic skin condition involving red or inflamed skin on the central area of the face (i.e., cheeks, chin, nose, and forehead).
What causes it: The cause of rosacea itself is not yet known, although studies by the National Rosacea Society indicate that it tends to run in families. The symptoms are caused by dilated blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface. Symptoms are not necessarily constant, but flare up occasionally and are often triggered by sun exposure, ingesting certain foods, or heavy exercise.
Symptoms to look for: Red, inflamed skin on the central face or, in rare cases, on the chest, ears, neck, or scalp. Rosacea most commonly affects Caucasian, fair-skinned women between the ages of 30 and 50, so for patients in this demographic, these symptoms are especially likely to indicate rosacea.
Possible treatments: There is currently no cure for rosacea, although there are multiple ways to treat the symptoms. Depending on the individual patient, a DAA provider will likely use laser treatments (such as FotoFacial® treatments, the Perfecta™ laser, or the Smoothbeam laser), oral or topical antibiotics, or, in extreme cases of a particular category of rosacea, a surgical procedure. It is important to note that even though acne often presents with rosacea as well, acne treatments alone will not address rosacea.
Knowing about various skin conditions is helpful in helping you identify a potential problem, but the most important thing to do if you suspect that you have a skin condition is to see board-certified dermatologist. This is the only way for skin conditions to be accurately and effectively diagnosed and treated. To become more informed about skin conditions and when to visit a dermatologist, follow DAA on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.