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Ichthyosis

(Fish Scale Disease; Xeroderma)

 

Definition

Ichthyosis is a dry skin condition. There are 2 types:

  • Inherited ichthyosis—dryness and scaling of the skin due to hereditary factors
  • Acquired ichthyosis—thickening and scaling of the skin that is associated with certain medical conditions
 

Causes    TOP

Inherited ichthyosis is caused by a genetic defect that is passed from parent to child or that occurs on its own.

Acquired ichthyosis is relatively rare, but may be caused by:

 

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase the chances of ichthyosis:

  • Family member with ichthyosis
  • Certain diseases such as lymphoma, sarcoidosis, AIDS, and multiple myeloma

Ichthyosis may be triggered by:

  • Cold weather
  • Frequent or lengthy bathing, especially in hot water
  • Harsh soaps or detergents
  • Soaps or lotions containing perfumes
 

Symptoms    TOP

Ichthyosis can develop on any part of the body, but most often occurs on the legs, arms, or trunk. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, the condition may be disfiguring. Symptoms may include:

  • Dry, flaking skin
  • Scaling of skin that gives skin the appearance of fish scales
  • Shedding of layers of the skin
  • Itching of skin
  • In severe cases, scarring and/or infection due to rubbing and scratching of scales or blisters

Certain rare types of inherited ichthyosis are detected at birth and may be very serious, causing severe scaling on the skin all over the body.

 

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Rarely, blood tests may be required.

Tests may be done if the diagnosis is unclear. This may include blood tests or a skin biopsy.

Skin Biopsy

Skin proceedure

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

 

Treatment    TOP

Since there is no cure for ichthyosis, treatment consists of managing the symptoms. Most treatment is aimed at keeping the skin moist. In severe cases, medication may be prescribed. For the acquired form, treating the underlying condition may also help lessen the symptoms of the ichthyosis.

Moisturizing Skin

Many types of moisturizing ointments, lotions, and creams are used to relieve symptoms of ichthyosis. These include:

  • Petroleum jelly
  • Mineral oil
  • Creams, lotions, and ointments containing vitamin A
  • A large variety of over-the-counter, unscented moisturizers

For ichthyosis that causes scaling:

  • Solutions or creams with lactic or salicylic acid or urea may help.
  • In some cases, it may be advised to wrap affected areas with a plastic or cellophane bandage after applying a moisturizing agent. Such bandages should not be used on children.

Medications

In severe cases, medications are sometimes prescribed, including:

  • Retinoids to unclog pores and allow other topical medications to work better
  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Calcineurin inhibitors that are applied to the skin
  • Special soaps to disinfect the affected area
 

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent the development of ichthyosis. However, steps to prevent this condition from getting worse include:

  • Bathing less often
  • Applying unscented moisturizer regularly and frequently, especially in winter
  • Using only mild soap
  • Avoiding:
    • Harsh soaps
    • Soaps with scents or perfumes
    • Skin contact with detergents
    • Cold, dry weather when possible
RESOURCES:

Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types
http://www.firstskinfoundation.org

The National Registry for Ichthyosis and Related Disorders
http://www.skinregistry.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dermatology Association
https://www.dermatology.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Ichthyosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114921/Ichthyosis . Updated March 17, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.

Ichthyosis. DermNet NZ website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/ichthyosis. Updated January 2015. Accessed March 6, 2018.

Newly diagnosed? Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 6, 2018.



Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 3/6/2018

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