What's the Difference Between Atopic Eczema, Rosacea and Psoriasis?

Atopic eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), psoriasis, and rosacea present similar skin symptoms. It can often make it difficult to determine which skin condition you might actually have. There are a couple of factors that differentiate one condition from the other. These factors include what areas of the body are impacted, the age the symptoms began, the nature of the rash, and whether or not any identified triggers leading to the skin symptoms. A primary care provider or a dermatologist can properly diagnose what you are experiencing and help make a treatment plan that works for you.

What is rosacea?

Rosacea is a common skin condition and causes redness and visible blood vessels. People may also experience red bumps that swell and contain pus. Rosacea is often mistaken for an allergic reaction or acne as the symptoms often affect the face. Rosacea is more common among fair-skinned individuals, and it occurs more frequently in women. Rosacea symptoms have periods when they are more severe and periods when symptoms are milder. Rosacea can also spread to other body areas, including the eyes, ears, chest, and back.1,2

What causes it?

The cause of rosacea isn't known, but it is thought to be due to a combination of environmental and hereditary factors. There is no medical test to diagnose rosacea. If your doctor suspects you have rosacea, they will conduct a physical examination as well as a symptoms history. Your doctor may want to rule out other medical conditions before making a treatment plan. 1,2

What triggers it?

Treatment for rosacea includes determining what may cause your rosacea to flare and to avoid those triggers. Some common rosacea triggers include:

  • Temperature extremes or changes
  • Sunburn
  • Stress
  • Skin care products and/or make-up that contain alcohol
  • Hot beverages, caffeine or alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Certain medications1,2

How is it treated?

Your doctor may suggest some topical treatments to manage your rosacea symptoms. There are also medications that work to reduce the redness by constricting the blood vessels, antibiotics may also be used to help fight the inflammation by reducing the bacteria. Laser therapy or electrodesiccation (use of a tiny needle to deliver electricity directly to the blood vessel and in turn destroying it) are other options as well.1,2

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic, life-long autoimmune condition. Currently, there is no cure for psoriasis, and most people who have the condition will cycle through periods of flare-ups and remissions. Flare-ups are times when psoriasis symptoms get worse and periods of remission are when psoriasis symptoms get better or even clear up for some time. With psoriasis, the person's immune system overacts, which causes the body to grow skin cells too quickly. These new skin cells pile up on the skin causing psoriasis plaques. The most common form is plaque psoriasis which causes slightly raised red patches with silver-looking scales. Psoriasis plaques can be different sizes and cover small body areas or can join together to cover a larger area of the body. Plaque psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body but commonly affected areas are the elbows, knees, and scalp. Psoriasis can develop at any age, even during childhood. There are other types of psoriasis that may also appear to look like other skin conditions.3

What causes it?

The cause of psoriasis isn't fully understood. Still, researchers believe that it is both a combination of genetics and environmental factors that play a role in developing the condition.

What triggers plaque psoriasis?

Triggers are unique to each individual who is diagnosed with psoriasis. Some common triggers among people with plaque psoriasis include:

  • Infections
  • Skin injuries
  • Taking certain medications
  • Lifestyle and environmental triggers: stress, smoking, drinking alcohol heavily, diet, allergies and weather3

How is it treated?

The type of psoriasis and the severity of the individual's psoriasis will help determine what treatment course will be appropriate. There are a variety of topical treatments that may help improve symptoms of psoriasis, including topical corticosteroids. Other ways to manage and treat psoriasis symptoms include light therapy (phototherapy), systemic treatments, biologics, other medications, lifestyle modifications or alternative and complementary therapies.3

What is atopic dermatitis?

Atopic eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a common skin condition that is characterized by dry, itchy, and scaly patches. Atopic eczema is known for the intense itching that it causes. Atopic eczema most often occurs in children, with 90% of all cases being diagnosed before the age of 5.4,5 As a chronic condition, atopic eczema may have periods of remission and periods of flares. Atopic eczema may also appear differently depending on the age of the person affected. A primary care doctor or dermatologist will inspect the skin and ask about symptoms you are experiencing such as itching. Sometimes, a provider may conduct a patch test to determine if you have skin allergies.

What causes it?

The exact causes of atopic eczema still remain unknown, although researchers have found that there is a genetic predisposition. A dysfunction in the skin's barrier, environmental factors, and a dysfunction in the immune system are all believed to play a role.

What triggers it?

Common triggers for flares of atopic eczema include:

  • Heat/Weather
  • Sweat
  • Stress
  • Infections
  • Exposure to irritants (ex: fabrics)
  • Food or environmental allergy

How is it treated?

Treatment for atopic eczema will typically require a combination of good skin care, use of medications, and lifestyle changes, including avoiding known triggers. Medications may be used to help with controlling the intense itch, reducing inflammation, and helping to prevent future flares. Atopic eczema medications include topical corticosteroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors, immunomodulators, antibiotics, and antihistamines. Proper skincare and lifestyle changes can help prevent flare-ups. In addition, some people with atopic eczema benefit from phototherapy.

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