Question: What health problem affects more people on a daily basis than cancer, high blood pressure or obesity?
Answer: skin disease, which one in three people struggle with at any given time, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
While disorders such as eczema, rosacea, acne and psoriasis are rarely deadly, they can cause plenty of physical and emotional pain for children and adults, said LaDonna Williams, director of the Inflammatory Skin Disease Institute in Newport News.
"Until recently, most skin disease has been considered a cosmetic issue, which is a real concern," Williams said. "It is a 24/7 disease. The visible physical symptoms impose psychological burdens as well as interfere with daily living." Next month, the institute - a nonprofit center that educates patients and their families - will host a conference to update both doctors and patients on treatments for mild to severe problems. The lineup will include panel discussions and a "show, tell and smell" session with samples of lotions and creams on the market.
Beyond the well-known pimples of acne, thousands of different skin diseases can create red, dry, itchy, scaly or painful patches - some cancerous and some vulnerable to infection. All told, the disorders cost more than $38 billion a year in doctor visits and medications, according to a national study released last year.
Many patients also are embarrassed to go out in public and will skip work or school, said Williams, the mother of two children with severe eczema. In quality-of-life surveys, patients with skin diseases score lower than those with asthma or high blood pressure. One reason: having to fight the false notion that skin damage is contagious or due to poor hygiene.
Along with medicine, practical education can help many skin disease patients, dermatologists say. For example, people with eczema, a disorder that makes skin dry and itchy, should take short and lukewarm baths, wear soft cotton clothing and avoid irritants such as cigarette smoke and dust. School-aged children also can ask to sit away from windows or heating vents that can lead to overheating, a common eczema trigger. "We need to put forth an effort," Williams said, "so that skin disease does not continue to go unrecognized."
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