Ichthyosis is a dry skin condition that leaves the skin scaly and flakey or dry and cracked. It affects about 1 in 250 people worldwide. Although most cases are visible only in a mild form, this can be enough to affect a person’s self-confidence.
There are many different types of Ichthyosis with the most common being Ichthyosis Vulgaris. In the majority of cases Ichthyosis is hereditary, but in some other cases it can be acquired (normally in adulthood) and is usually associated with another disease in the body.
All forms of Ichthyosis have different types of cracked, dry skin which can either become thickened or flaky and resembling fish scale skin, or it can make the skin thin and fragile. In fact, the word Ichthyosis comes from the Ancient Greek word ‘Ichthy’ which means fish.
People with severe Ichthyosis can spend a lot of time each day looking after their skin. They can also struggle with overheating due to the reduced ability to sweat. It can impair their movement because the dry skin can be too painful to move. If this fish like scaley skin cracks and splits it can be liable to infection. In some cases, it can affect the eyesight or hearing due to a build up of skin over the eyes and ears.
Ichthyosis can be genetic or develop during life. Genetic or inherited Ichthyosis Vulgaris occurs due to a single genetic flaw which is passed on through one or both parents. It can also develop as a new fault in the gene in the early stages of foetal life. The signs and symptoms of inherited Ichthyosis appear at birth or within the first year of a baby’s life.
If you develop Ichthyosis later in life, it is usually associated with another condition like; an underactive thyroid, kidney disease, sarcoidosis (this is a rare condition that causes small red swollen patches of tissue to develop in the body’s organs), Hodgkin Lymphoma (a rare type of cancer), the HIV infection and some medicines can also trigger Ichthyosis. Certain medications can also trigger Ichthyosis.
Different Types of Ichthyosis
There are at least 20 different types of Ichthyosis. Here are the more common ones as well as a couple of the rarer types:
Ichthyosis Vulgaris-is the most common form of genetic (inherited) Ichthyosis. The mother will show no signs of the condition and a baby’s skin may appear normal at birth. The skin is often worse in the winter when it is cold and dry and can improve in warm and humid weather conditions. The symptoms are usually mild but still visible with darkened scaling of the skin.
Lamellar Ichthyosis - usually forms larger, darker, thicker scales that are tighter to the skin and are usually more prominent around the joint areas.
X-Linked Ichthyosis - (recessive Ichthyosis) is only present in males. It causes scaling over the torso and limbs mostly but can also affect the ears and face. This condition is passed down by the mother who carries the faulty gene but she will show no evidence of the condition.
EHK- is characterised by thick, blistering, warty hardening of the skin over most of the body. Scales tend to form in parallel rows of spines or ridges.
Ichthyosis Bullous-is another inherited form of Ichthyosis and is rare. People suffering with the Bullosa strain have inflamed scaly skin which blisters. If they become infected they can produce a foul-smelling skin odour. This can be a troublesome condition and quite distressing for the individuals affected.
Harlequin Ichthyosis-is thankfully extremely rare as it is very severe. It is named so because a baby affected by this will at birth look like it is in a harlequin costume. There will be very thick scaling all over the body. Parents and carers will need very specific information on the condition and how to treat it.
Although there is no complete Ichthyosis Cure, there is definitely hope!
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