Skin disorders broadly encompass any cutaneous (skin) injury or infection. There are many different types of skin disorders ranging from a rash or itchy skin to skin fungus, infection or even skin tags. Skin disorders are common in people of all ages. The vast majority of skin disorders can be readily identified and easily treated.
The skin, also medically referred to as integument or the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the human body. It is the body’s protective layer, acting as the first line of defense against bacteria, dirt and other foreign objects. The skin is one of the most vulnerable organs of the body. Skin disorders cover a wide range of problems and can therefore have a variety of causes such as:
- Exposure to the elements (sun, wind, heat, cold)
- Contact with an irritant
- Allergic reaction
- Poor diet
- Build up of toxins (as seen in kidney and liver disease)
- Hormonal imbalance
- Poor hygiene
- Underlying Illness
- Infection (bacterial, viral or fungal)
- Genetic inheritance
Some of the most common types of skin disorders are:
- Eczema – A general term for many types of skin inflammation, eczema can present as itchy yellow, scaly or oily patches of skin. There are several forms of eczema. Contact, seborrheic and nummular eczemas are most commonly seen.
- Acne – This is a skin condition that causes blackheads, whiteheads and sometimes infected pus-filled pores called pimples.
- Corns and calluses – These are thickened layers of skin caused by repeated friction and pressure. Commonly found on the fingers, toes and feet where the skin is routinely rubbed and used in day to day functions.
- Ingrown nails – Ingrown nails occur when the outer edge of a nail grows down into the skin. This can cause pain, redness, swelling and infection.
- Cold sores – These are open sores in the mouth, gums or on the lips that is often painful. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. These sores are also called fever blisters and are sometimes confused with canker sores (non-contagious mouth ulcers not caused by herpes).
- Impetigo – This is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection, common among young children. It causes painless blisters on the torso, arms and legs. The skin around the blister can be red and itchy. Painful, fluid filled sores can be a sign of a more serious form of Impetigo and should be immediately evaluated by a healthcare professional.
- Cellulitus – A common bacterial skin infection causing a severe localized swelling, if not treated, cellulitis is life threatening. It often occurs where the skin has already been broken (cuts, insect bites, wounds). An infected area may appear red, warm to the touch, painful and swollen.
- Warts – Typically benign skin growths caused by human papilloma virus that commonly occur on feet (plantar), fingers (common) or the genitals (genital warts). Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection. Common and plantar warts are also contagious, but typically affect only one part of the body (feet and hands).
- Hives – Raised, itchy red welts on the surface of the skin, hives are usually an allergic reaction.
- Rosacea – This is a rosy-colored chronic skin condition that causes inflammation of the nose, cheeks, eyelids, chin or forehead.
- Psoriasis – A chronic noncontagious skin disorder involving scaly red patches of flaking skin, psoriasis is often inherited.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of a skin disorder include raised bumps, redness, itchiness, flaky skin, oozing discoloration or swelling.
Who Is at Risk
All individuals, from infants to the elderly, can suffer from skin disorders. Contagious skin disorders tend to be more common in younger children and individuals who play contact sports. Immuno-suppressed individuals are at higher risk of contracting skin disorders.
It is important to understand and eliminate the cause of a specific skin disorder in order to treat it. Chronic skin disorders can be managed with anything from topical medications to oral steroids depending on severity. Bacterial skin disorders may be treated with antibiotics and topical creams to help manage pain and itching.
At one time or another, all individuals are likely to have a skin disorder. Some actions that can be taken to help prevent skin disorders include:
- Promptly treat and manage wounds
- Allow skin to air out regularly (change socks to keep feet dry)
- Manage over-dry skin with daily moisturizer
- Maintain proper hygiene and nutrition