Ichthyosis vulgaris

Also known as: Common ichthyosis and Fish scale disease

Definition

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

Causes

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, asthma, 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 on the legs. But it can also involve the arms, hands, and middle of the body. Persons with this condition may also have many fine lines on the palm of the hand.

Exams 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 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 hydrating-moisturizing creams that contain keratolytic chemicals such as lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea. These chemicals help skin shed normally.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

Possible Complications

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

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

References

Richard G, Ringpfeil F. Ichthyoses, erythrokeratodermas and related disorders. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 57.

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

Review date:
September 11, 2013
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, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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