HealthFit’s approach to skin diseases, asthma & allergies
Skin diseases, asthma and allergies can all greatly affect the life of an individual suffering symptoms from such problems. Coloradans love to hike, bike and spend most of their free time outdoors. Allergies, asthma, skin diseases and these ailments’ symptoms can keep people from doing so.
Our family medicine providers help our patients with a variety of skin and breathing issues. From acne to itchy, watery eyes and shortness of breath, we help our patients manage or eliminate symptoms to get back to living fully.
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Skin diseases & skin conditions
Acne is a very common skin disease. Almost everyone suffers from some form of it throughout his or her life, especially during adolescence and early adulthood. Adults make up about 20 percent of people suffering from acne, which can cause frustration and self-consciousness and, if extensive, scarring.
These scars can be difficult to treat and do not easily fade away. People with acne are often confused about whether they should see a physician about this skin disease. In general, if a person has been treating acne with products (see below) for three months without improvement or if it gets worse, he or she should come see us.
Acne is most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, upper arms, back and shoulders. Acne starts when the skin’s natural oils, dead skin cells and bacteria become trapped in the tiny openings for hair follicles called pores. If the pores are large, they are called blackheads, which are small, flat spots with dark or “black” centers.
If the pore’s opening is too small, the clogged pore will become a whitehead with an enlarged, flesh-colored bump. If the pressure within the pore is too great, the cell wall can break and cause what is known as a pustule or a classic “pimple,” with a head of pus called inflammatory acne. Cystic acne occurs when infection travels deep into the skin, creating a hard, inflamed bump full of pus.
The exact cause of acne is hard to determine, but we do know that hormones play a part in this skin disease. During teenage years, hormones increase as the child develops into adulthood – this is the main cause of teenage acne. In women, acne can be brought on by the hormonal changes experienced during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Stress can make acne worse because when the body is stressed, it releases more hormones. However tempting, it is important to not touch or pick at acne, as the infection can be pushed deeper or spread to other areas of the skin.
The important thing to know about acne is that it can be treated and improved. There are various acne treatments including cleansers, topical ointments and oral medications designed to treat specific types of acne. In some women, birth control pills can help regulate acne causing hormones. Consistent usage of a combination of the above mentioned medications will usually help improve the frequency and appearance of acne.
Also called dermatitis, eczema is a generalized name for skin conditions that cause the skin to become itchy and red. The name eczema comes from the Greek word meaning to boil over, which refers to the uncomfortable nature of the skin.
The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, but other, lesser known types include contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. Eczema is not contagious.
The exact cause of eczema isn’t known, but the skin disease is thought to be developed through a combination of genetics and extreme inflammatory responses to environmental triggers. Since eczema can be exacerbated by outside sources, it is often found in families with a history of allergies and asthma.
Regardless of where the eczema occurs or what type it is, eczema is almost always itchy. The following are also symptoms of eczema:
- Dry, sensitive skin.
- Red, inflamed skin.
- Dark, rough, leathery or scaly colored skin patches.
- Oozing or crusting skin.
- Areas of skin swelling.
Eczema affects about 10-20 percent of infants and only about 3 percent of children and adults. At this time there is no cure for eczema, and that can frustrate those suffering with this skin disease. Come see the providers at HealthFit, we can help. A combination of over-the-counter and provider-prescribed medications, daily bathing and moisturization, and avoiding triggers (dryness, irritants, some foods) can help to manage eczema flares.
This most often occurs in adults and is characterized by a thick, patchy, red rash with white or silver scales. The most common type of this skin disease is called plaque psoriasis. The rash usually starts as a few small spots that can together form larger patches. Psoriasis is most often found on the elbows, knees, nails, lower back and scalp.
Although we think of psoriasis in terms of the skin, it is actually a chronic autoimmune condition. The average person produces new skin and sheds the old every 28-30 days. In people with psoriasis, the immune system attacks healthy skin cells, causing new skin to regenerate in 3-4 days. The body cannot shed the new skin fast enough, so it builds up and causes the red, scaly rash.
Common psoriasis triggers include:
- Certain types of medications.
- Skin infection or injury.
- Drinking alcohol.
HealthFit’s treatments for psoriasis include topical ointments and medications, and oral prescription drugs. Stress relief through deep breathing, yoga or long walks may help ease symptoms made worse by stress.
Wart treatment and removal
Warts, while harmless, are actually infections on the top layer of skin caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many types of HPV, some of which cause STDs and others that cause warts.
The virus usually enters the skin through a small cut, and the immune system responds by rapidly growing new skin cells on the outer layer of the skin, which causes the wart. We cannot avoid coming into contact with HPV, as it can be transferred through a handshake, by a doorknob or from a public keyboard – this is why warts are more often found on the hands.
Although we know the cause of warts, we don’t know why some people get them and others don’t. Our best explanation is that some people’s immune systems are just better than others’ and these people are better able to fight off HPV before it causes a wart.
Warts are easily removed. A stroll through the drug store will give you many options for at-home wart removal. These all involve methods of suffocating the virus so that it dies. At-home removals can take weeks or months, but a quick visit to the HealthFit providers can result in immediate wart removal via cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) or excision. Removing a wart soon is important so that the virus does not spread to other parts of the skin or to other people.
Skin tag & mole treatment and removal
A skin tag is a soft, benign skin growth often found on the eyelids, neck, arm pits and groin. They are commonly found in areas where the skin rubs on itself or clothing. More than 50 percent of people will experience a skin tag at some point in their life.
Skin tags are most commonly found on children who rub their eyes, athletes who have repetitive irritation from sports, and overweight people. While generally harmless, many people choose to remove skin tags because they are unsightly or irritating.
In rare instances, a skin tag can be precancerous. Patients should quickly make an appointment with their provider if a skin tag bleeds, grows or displays multiple colors (pink, brown, red or black).
Contrary to popular belief, removing a skin tag will not cause more to grow. Skin tags are easily removed by cutting off the tag or tying off the blood supply with dental floss and waiting for it to fall off. At-home removals can take a few days or weeks, but skin tag removal at HealthFit is a relatively inexpensive and quick procedure via cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) or excision with immediate results.
Asthma occurs when the airways narrow, swell and produce mucus, making breathing difficult and causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma can be caused by exercising, especially in cold, dry air, or by environmental irritants such as pollen, mold and workplace chemicals. Asthma can’t be cured, but we help our patients manage symptoms with various long-term control medications, and symptoms can often lessen over time.
As with some of the conditions listed on this page such as eczema or psoriasis, the exact cause of asthma is unknown. But it could have to do with a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Common factors that trigger asthma symptoms are listed below.
- Seasonal pollen, dust, mold spores and pet dander.
- Respiratory infections like a cold.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Weather changes.
- Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma).
- Cold, dry air.
- Air pollution and smoke.
- Stress and strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter and crying.
- Some food preservatives found in shrimp, dried fruit, beer and wine.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach acid to back up into the throat and may cause asthma symptoms.
Signs of an asthma attack
Asthma attacks can be scary and life threatening. It is important for patients to discuss all symptoms and their severity with a medical provider so that the patient knows when emergency treatment is needed. Signs of an asthma emergency include:
- Rapidly deteriorating shortness of breath and wheezing.
- No improvement in poor breathing even after use of a rescue inhaler such as albuterol.
- Shortness of breath or struggles catching breath during minimal physical activity.
If experiencing an asthma attack, call 911.
Allergies occur when a person’s immune system reacts to something such as pet dander, pollen, bee venom or food that does not cause a reaction in most people. Each person’s immune system produces antibodies to fight infections but in people with allergies, the antibodies identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it is not. This can cause a reaction of inflamed skin, sinuses, airways or digestive system.
The severity of allergy symptoms varies from person to person and can include itchy and watery eyes, a rash, hives or anaphylaxis, which occurs when the whole body reacts to an allergen within seconds or minutes.
Anaphylaxis is potentially life threatening. Most people who have anaphylactic reactions to allergens carry an EpiPen. An EpiPen is an injectable device containing epinephrine that when injected into the body helps to reverse the allergic reaction.
Other symptoms of allergies include:
- Skin reactions.
- Constricted airways and a swollen tongue or throat.
- Weak and rapid pulse.
- Vomiting or diarrhea.
- Dizziness or fainting.
If a person is experiencing any of the above symptoms on a regular basis, he or she should seek medical care right away to determine the cause of the reaction.
If we cannot determine a cause by chatting with patients about what they’ve eaten or where they’ve been, we can order an allergy skin test. This test is noninvasive and involves us introducing a large variety of common allergens in very small quantities to an isolated portion of the patient’s skin.
If we see a reaction in the zone of a certain allergen, we can recommend a plan to avoid the allergen and steps to take when a reaction occurs.