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What Is Rosacea?

Rosacea is a common, lasting skin condition that affects about 14 million Americans. Its symptoms are usually patchy redness and inflammation, especially on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. It often starts between the ages of 30 and 50 and affects more women than men. Because symptoms start slowly, rosacea may be mistaken at first for sunburn.

As the condition gets worse, redness becomes more lasting and obvious. Some people also notice stinging or burning feelings. Small, red, solid bumps (called papules) and pus-filled pimples (called pustules) may appear on the skin. Because these look like acne, rosacea is sometimes mistaken for acne.

Small blood vessels (telangiectasias) may become visible, too. Often, when people with rosacea blush, the blood vessels in their faces look like thin, red lines. In some cases, the eyes may become red, irritated, and may burn (ocular rosacea).

In advanced cases, more of the face is affected. The skin swells and small bumps develop on the nose, making it appear red and swollen. This condition, called rhinophyma, is rare and usually affects men. It was the cause of the late comedian W.C. Fields' best-known feature -- his trademark bulbous nose.

Rosacea may get worse over time, leading to permanent changes in looks and affecting self-esteem. There is no known cure for rosacea, but it is treatable. Most cases of rosacea can be controlled by avoiding the things that trigger it -- such as the sun, spicy foods, drinking hot beverages and alcohol, using sun protection -- and by using medication.

What Causes Rosacea?

No one knows what causes rosacea. Researchers have several ideas:

  • A disorder of the blood vessels that causes them to swell and leads to redness
  • A genetic problem combined with environmental factors that irritate the skin
  • Clogging of skin gland openings with skin mites

Rosacea seems to affect fair-skinned people more often, though it can affect anyone. Often several people in a family have rosacea, so researchers think it may be at least partly genetic. In some cases, rosacea may be linked with migraines, other skin problems, and certain eye disorders, including blepharitis and keratitis.