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What Causes Rosacea? New VA-Led Studies Try to Find Out Cont
Clues to the Cause
Another recent study offered some clues that could lead to that goal. That research pointed to flaws in the nervous system as a factor in rosacea and found irregularities in transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels..2
A study earlier this year looked at increasing evidence that sebaceous fatty acids play a role in the maintenance of skin barrier integrity and that patients will have an abnormal sebaceous fatty acid composition.3
In addition, Dellavalle pointed to excessive exposure to sunlight as a factor that can make rosacea worse, an issue that is particularly relevant in the active-duty military and veteran populations, because many military assignments involve long periods of duty outdoors and involve heavy sun exposure.
“Some rosacea appears to have a component of sun damage; other rosacea doesn’t have that at all,” said Dellavalle. “People should use sun protection. I don’t think that was ever emphasized in the past.”
Heat can also aggravate rosacea. In a 2010 survey, more than 75% of patients said hot weather made their condition worse. And winter can be just as bad. In another survey, 46% of rosacea patients who live in the northern United States said their symptoms are worse in the winter, aggravated by wind and cold temperatures.
That, plus an older patient population, makes rosacea an especially difficult issue for VA.
“The environmental exposure our veterans have had has made rosacea worse,” explained Gallo.
Stress is another factor. In a survey of 748 rosacea patients, almost two-thirds of the respondents said they experience a flare-up related to emotional stress at least once a month.
Cigarette smoking, spicy food and alcohol use can also aggravate the condition. In some patients, heavy exercise and even certain cosmetics can make the condition worse. At the same time, cosmetics can help mask the facial redness.
Rosacea also can flare up due to hormonal changes, such as during menopause.
Although rosacea is not life-threatening, it can severely damage a patient’s quality of life, Gallo suggested. Patients with rosacea can be self-conscious about looking as if they are sunburned or have acne. Uneducated observers might even stigmatize rosacea sufferers, believing their red faces and watery, bloodshot eyes indicate alcohol abuse.
In surveys by the National Rosacea Society, more than 76% of rosacea patients said their condition lowered their self-confidence and self-esteem, and 41% said it caused them to isolate themselves by avoiding public contact or canceling social engagements.
“It can be a terrible quality of life,” Gallo said.
The effects of rosacea also can hurt patients in the workplace. In one survey last year, 41% of patients with severe rosacea said it blocked them from receiving a job promotion, and 66% heard coworkers making rude or inappropriate comments about their appearance.
Part of the problem is that the disease is little known or understood by the public. A Gallup poll found that 78% of Americans don’t even know what rosacea is.
The disease also can be uncomfortable, causing a burning sensation in the face and even affecting eyesight in severe cases. Ocular rosacea can damage corneas and reduce vision.
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