Most of us have seen someone with rosacea, a chronic skin condition that can cause facial redness, bumps, pimples, thick skin and even bloodshot eyes. But we're often not sure just what we're seeing when we look this problem in the face.

"Sometimes, people believe this facial redness comes from drinking alcohol," says John E. Wolf Jr., M.D., a spokesman for the National Rosacea Society (NRS). "People thought W.C. Fields had a lumpy nose from drinking. But he had rhinophyma, a form of rosacea causing thickening of the skin of the nose." Other celebrities with rosacea: former President Bill Clinton and the late Princess Diana.

About 14 million Americans, mostly ages 30 to 50, have rosacea to some degree, the NRS estimates. "There may be more. Most people with rosacea don't know they have it," says Dr. Wolf, who chairs the dermatology department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. It's usually seen on the cheeks and nose, but rosacea can strike the neck and chest, too.

Although the cause of rosacea is unknown, people with fair skin who blush easily may be at the greatest risk for it, the NRS says. Over time, the redness of the skin becomes more noticeable and blood vessels may be seen. If untreated, bumps and pimples may develop, and the nose may become swollen.

In a 2002 NRS survey of 1,900 people with rosacea, 68 percent said the illness caused low self-esteem, 25 percent reported anxiety and 20 percent were depressed. "Treating rosacea can not only help patients physically but also emotionally," Dr. Wolf says.

Treatment includes avoiding triggers, washing skin with mild soap and tepid or cool water, using moisturizers, drinking cool water and using a cool towel on the face after working out. Prescription gels, creams, lotions and antibiotics can help. Doctors use lasers and other light therapy to treat some forms of rosacea. "Some procedures are cosmetic and might not be covered by health insurance," Dr. Wolf says.

Medical Reviewer: [Cranwell-Bruce, Lisa MS, RN, FNP-C, Ratini, Melinda DO, MS] Last Annual Review Date: 2010-10-06 Copyright: © Health Ink & Vitality Communications

Reference: Skin, Hair and Nails section on Better Medicine

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True or false? Topical medications should be used primarily during rosacea flare-ups.