Definition

What is ichthyosis vulgaris?

Ichthyosis vulgaris is an inherited skin disorder in which dead skin cells accumulate in thick, dry scales on your skin’s surface.

The scales of ichthyosis vulgaris, sometimes called fish scale disease or fish skin disease, can be present at birth, but usually first appear during early childhood. Sometimes, mild cases of ichthyosis vulgaris go undiagnosed because they’re mistaken for extremely dry skin.

Most cases of ichthyosis vulgaris are mild, but some are severe. Sometimes other skin diseases, such as the allergic skin condition eczema, are associated with ichthyosis vulgaris. No cure has been found for ichthyosis vulgaris, and treatments focus on controlling the condition.

How common is ichthyosis vulgaris?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris?

The common symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris are:

  • Flaky scalp
  • Itchy skin
  • Polygon-shaped scales on the skin
  • Scales that are brown, gray, or white
  • Severely dry skin
  • Thickened skin

Symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris are typically worse in winter, when the air is colder and dryer. The patches of dry skin typically appear on the elbows and lower legs, most often affecting the shins in thick, dark segments. In severe cases, ichthyosis vulgaris may also cause deep, painful cracks to develop on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes ichthyosis vulgaris?

Ichthyosis vulgaris may be present at birth or appear in the first few years of a child’s life, but it typically disappears during early childhood. Some people may never have symptoms again, but for others, it can return during adulthood.

As with many other skin conditions, genetics play a role in the transmission of ichthyosis vulgaris. The condition follows an autosomal dominant pattern. This means that only one parent needs to possess the mutated gene in order to pass it onto his or her child. It is one of the most common of all inherited skin disorders.

In rare cases, adults can develop ichthyosis vulgaris even if they don’t carry the defective gene. Though this is rare, it’s most often associated with other conditions, including cancer, kidney failure, or thyroid disease.

Ichthyosis vulgaris may also occur along with other skin disorders, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or keratosis pilaris. Atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema, is known for causing extremely itchy skin rashes. The affected skin may also be thick and covered in scales. The white or red skin bumps caused by keratosis pilaris can look similar to acne, but they usually appear on the arms, thighs, or buttocks. This condition can also cause rough patches of skin.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for ichthyosis vulgaris?

In case of inherited forms of Ichthyosis Vulgaris, a positive family history of ichthyosis is an important risk factor.

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is ichthyosis vulgaris diagnosed?

A doctor can often make a diagnosis by examining the affected skin and the characteristic scales. He or she may perform other tests, such as a skin biopsy. This may be necessary to rule out other causes of dry, scaly skin.

How is ichthyosis vulgaris treated?

Ichthyosis vulgaris doesn’t have a known cure, so the goal of treatment is to manage the condition.

Medications

Treatments may include:

  • Exfoliating creams and ointments. Prescription creams and ointments containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as lactic acid and glycolic acid, help control scaling and increase skin moisture.
  • Oral medication. Your doctor may prescribe vitamin A-derived medications called retinoids to reduce the production of skin cells. Side effects from the medication may include eye and lip inflammation, bone spurs and hair loss.

Retinoids may cause birth defects. Women considering retinoid therapy should be sure they are not pregnant before starting the medication — and use effective birth control while taking retinoids.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ichthyosis vulgaris?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with ichthyosis vulgaris:

  • Take long soaking baths to soften the skin. Use mild soap. Rub dampened skin lightly with a rough-textured sponge (loofa) or a pumice stone to help remove the scales.
  • After showering or bathing, gently pat or blot the skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on the skin.
  • Apply moisturizer or lubricating cream while the skin is still moist from bathing. Choose a moisturizer with urea or propylene glycol — chemicals that help keep skin moist. Petroleum jelly is another good choice.
  • Apply an over-the-counter product that contains urea, lactic acid or a low concentration of salicylic acid twice daily. Mild acidic compounds help skin shed its dead skin cells. Urea helps bind moisture to skin.
  • Use a portable home humidifier or one attached to your furnace to add moisture to the air inside your home.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 4, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017

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