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Ichthyosis vulgaris

Definition

Ichthyosis vulgaris is a common skin disorder passed down through families that leads to dry, scaly skin.

Alternative Names

Common ichthyosis; Fish scale disease

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Ichthyosis vulgaris is one of the most common of the inherited skin disorders. It may begin in early childhood. The condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. That means you only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent in order for you to inherit the disease.

The condition is often more noticeable in the winter. It may occur along with atopic dermatitis, keratosis pilaris (small bumps on the back of the arms), or other skin disorders.

Symptoms

  • Dry skin, severe
  • Scaly skin ( scales)
  • Possible skin thickening
  • Mild itching of the skin

The dry, scaly skin is usually most severe over the legs but may also involve the arms, hands, and middle of the body. Persons with this condition may also have many fine lines over the palm of the hand.

Signs and tests

Your doctor can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests may be needed to rule out other possible causes of dry, scaly skin.

Your doctor will ask you if you have a family history of similar skin dryness.

Treatment

Your doctor will recommend heavy duty moisturizers. Creams and ointments work better than lotions. Apply these to moist skin immediately after bathing. You should use mild, non-drying soaps.

Your doctor may tell you to use moisturizing creams that contain chemicals that help skin to shed normally, including lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea.

Expectations (prognosis)

Ichthyosis vulgaris can be a nuisance, but it rarely affects your overall health. The condition usually disappears during adulthood, but may return years later.

Complications

A bacterial skin infection may develop if scratching causes openings in the skin.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • Symptoms continue despite treatment
  • Symptoms get worse
  • Skin lesions spread
  • New symptoms develop

Prevention

If you have this condition, be aware that your children are at risk for developing it.

References

Genodermatoses and Congenital Anomalies. In: James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 27.


Review Date: 5/13/2011
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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