Common Skin Conditions and How to Cope

Chronic skin problems can be aggravating, but you don’t have to suffer in silence.

While some skin conditions can be difficult to cure, getting the right diagnosis and treatment can lead to remissions that last for years or a lifetime. So don’t assume that an ongoing skin irritation is something you’ll just have to live with, because your physician may be able to suggest topical creams, oral antibiotics, antihistamines, corticosteroids or laser treatments to help keep flare-ups to a minimum.

Burning questions

The first thing your physician will do is ask some specific questions to help determine exactly what’s causing your skin symptoms:

* Do you have a rash?

* Did you come in contact with an irritant or allergen, in the environment or in the air?

*Is the problem on one body part or all over your body in a symmetrical pattern?

* Could there be an internal trigger such as medication, fever or infection?

Your answers can help your doctor assess what’s really going on with your skin condition and pinpoint the cause, so you can decide what action to take next.

Contact dermatitis

Many common skin problems are the result of contact with an irritant or allergen that causes redness, itching, swelling, scaling or small blisters almost anywhere on the body, but typically on hands.

Poison ivy and poison oak are classic instigators of contact dermatitis, but basic, annoying dryness can come from something as simple as repeated dunking in water that contains detergents. Other skin irritants or allergens include chemicals in hair dyes, nickel in inexpensive gold jewelry and clothing fasteners, rubber and latex, and the topical antibiotic neomycin.

Allergies to some substances may cause an immediate reaction, while other substances may not trigger symptoms for days. Regular moisturizing can help stave off dryness and some flare-ups.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

With its red, itchy bumps, eczema can be an infuriating chronic condition that often starts in childhood. You may notice it behind the knees or on the arms, but it can crop up anywhere. The cause of eczema is unknown, and it can come and go, so the best bet for living with it is making sure the skin stays moisturized. Medications can also help with the itching and any bacterial infections that result from overly zealous scratching.


Psoriasis is the result of immune system miscommunications that cause skin to regenerate too quickly. There are five types of psoriasis, but plaque psoriasis is the most common, identifiable by its elevated red lesions with a silvery coating.

Psoriasis may carry a strong genetic component. More than half of those with it know someone in the family who also has it. Basic triggers for psoriasis include infection (such as strep throat), stress and simple environmental factors like a cold winter’s day. It’s important to diagnose psoriasis early, because up to one-third of sufferers also develop psoriatic arthritis, which can have disabling effects on the body.


Hives, or raised red or white welts, are usually a fairly short-term affliction, although they can become chronic and last more than six weeks, or disappear but come back frequently. The histamines released from hives cause a nagging itch, so antihistamines can be an effective weapon against them.

Hives in the mouth or throat that result in swelling, however, can disrupt swallowing or breathing and require emergency room care.


The presence of enlarged blood vessels, usually on the face, distinguishes rosacea from other skin disorders in some 14 million Americans, usually adults. Early diagnosis and treatment can control and prevent progression.

You may have rosacea if you have skin pinkness or redness with a “flushed” feeling that lasts longer than normal–perhaps with swelling or thickening– and a pimply quality. Severe rosacea can also cause eye problems

The National Rosacea Society reports that rosacea may be caused by heredity, environment or immune system problems. Being in a hot room, social stress and the tannic acids in alcoholic beverages can also aggravate rosacea.

7 ways to take control of skin problems:

  1. Reduce stress with exercise, yoga or meditation.
  2. Avoid “trigger” irritants or allergens whenever possible.
  3. Join a support group.
  4. Work pro-actively with your dermatologist to treat symptoms.
  5. Adhere to your long-term treatment plan.
  6. Try not to get overheated.
  7. Always wear sunblock.