Ichthyosis is a dry skin condition. There are 2 types:
Inherited ichthyosis—dryness and scaling of the skin due to hereditary factorsAcquired ichthyosis—thickening and scaling of the skin that is associated with certain medical conditions
Inherited ichthyosis is caused by a genetic defect that is passed from parent to child or that occurs on its own.
Acquired ichthyosis is relatively rare, but may be caused by any of the following:
Leprosy—extremely rare in the United StatesUnderactive thyroid
Non-Hodgkin'sSarcoidosisAIDSMultiple myelomaCertain medications, such as nicotinic acid, triparanol, and butyrophenones
Factors that may increase the chance of ichthyosis include:
Family member with ichthyosisCertain diseases
Ichthyosis may be triggered by: Cold weatherFrequent or lengthy bathing, especially in hot waterHarsh soaps or detergentsSoaps or lotions containing perfumes
Ichthyosis can develop on any part of the body, but most often occurs on the legs, arms, or trunk. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, the condition may be disfiguring. Symptoms may include:
Dry, flaking skinScaling of skin that gives skin the appearance of fish scalesShedding of layers of the skinItching of skinIn severe cases, scarring and/or infection due to rubbing and scratching of scales or blisters
With certain rare types of inherited ichthyosis, symptoms:
Appear immediately at birthAre extremely severe, covering the entire bodyCause severe complications or death
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Rarely, blood tests may be required.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with: Blood testsSkin biopsy
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Since there is no cure for ichthyosis, treatment consists of managing the symptoms. Most treatment is aimed at keeping the skin moist. In severe cases, medication may be prescribed. For the acquired form, treating the underlying condition may also help lessen the symptoms of the ichthyosis.
Many types of moisturizing ointments, lotions, and creams are used to relieve symptoms of ichthyosis. These include:
Petroleum jellyMineral oilCreams, lotions, and ointments containing vitamin AA large variety of over-the-counter, unscented moisturizers
For ichthyosis that causes scaling:
Solutions or creams with lactic or salicylic acid or urea may help.In some cases, it may be advised to wrap affected areas with a plastic or cellophane bandage after applying a moisturizing agent. Such bandages should not be used on children.
In severe cases, medications are sometimes prescribed, including:
Retinoids to unclog pores and allow other topical medications to work betterAntipsoriatic medications used to treat psoriasis symptomsAntibiotics to treat infectionCalcineurin inhibitors applied to the skin to treat symptoms of atopic dermatitisSpecial soaps to disinfect the affected area
There are no current guidelines to prevent the development of ichthyosis. However, steps to prevent this condition from getting worse include:
Bathing less oftenApplying unscented moisturizer regularly and frequently, especially in winterUsing only mild soap
Harsh soapsSoaps with scents or perfumesSkin contact with detergentsCold, dry weather when possible
Newly diagnosed? Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types website. Available at: http://www.firstskinfoundation.org/content.cfm/Ichthyosis/Newly-Diagnosed/page_id/1245. Accessed November 21, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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