'Jenna' had an issue. She had gone to more than 10 physicians, yet nobody can identify the cause of the cracked, peeling skin on her legs. They were extremely painful, especially at night, and made her skin look like it were made of fish scales instead of human flesh.

Finally, a physician identified keratosis diffusa fetalis, a rare skin condition that produces skin so dry and scaly it literally seems to participate in another species. In reality, the phrase comes from the old Greek root ichthys, this means, not surprisingly, fish. As the severity of ichthyosis can vary from individual to individual, Jenna's case was clearly quite severe.

'It was usually just plain agony,' says Jenna, 28. 'My legs hurt really poorly and when I used to put them up in bandages through the night the bandages would adhere to my legs, which makes it excruciatingly painful to peel off.

'Whenever I would go clubbing I'd pray the lights would stay off, as I was too ashamed for anyone to see my legs. They looked definitely ugly, and I'd keep them completely hidden through the day because I thought therefore ashamed.'

Finally, a physician identified ichthyosis, a rare skin condition that produces skin therefore dry and scaly it actually seems to participate in still another species. Actually, the word originates from the old Greek origin ichthys, meaning, unsurprisingly, fish. As the intensity of ichthyosis can vary from individual to individual, Jenna's case was clearly very severe.

What's Ichthyosis?

In people with typical skin, the outer layer, or the skin, contains cells which can be continually dividing and then being shed. People with ichthyosis, however, often have skin cells which reproduce at an alarming rate that is a lot quicker than they can be shed, or scales that do not shed at all, therefore causing a build-up of skin.

The consequence of this usually genetic skin condition is the cells stack up on top of the other person, making a thick, scaly appearance. Sometimes, in extreme cases such as Jenna's, the skin becomes almost unbearably dry and cracks, and may even limit movement. Often the legs are affected, although sometimes the hands and arms are as well.

The problem is because this illness is fairly rare, many health practitioners and also some dermatologists may well not recognize it for what it's, therefore giving the wrong treatment - or prescribing no treatment at all.

There are several major types of ichthyosis, including:

  • Hereditary Ichthyosis Vulgaris. The most frequent kind, affecting about 95 percent of people with ichthyosis. Skin may appear normal when a kid exists but symptoms often appear by age five at the latest. All areas of the body could be affected, and is often related to atopic dermatitis. It's believed that at least anyone in every 300 in the United States has this disorder to varying degrees, and sex and race are insignificant. A kid of a parent with the disorder features a one-in two chance of having it as well.

  • Acquired Ichthyosis. This type of the problem is obtained, whilst the name suggest and often appears in adulthood. It's very rare and is often related to taking certain drugs or as the sufferer comes with an underlying medical or other problem, such as HIV/AIDS, leprosy, certain types of cancer or glandular problems. Severely poor diet may also play a role in whether an individual acquires ichthyosis.

  • Harlequin Ichthyosis. A congenital condition where a child comes into the world with thick skin all over his or her body, which triggers and in the course of time breaks deep, painful fissures. As both parents should be carriers extremely unusual, the likelihood of having it are just one-in a million. Many young ones born with this problem die soon after they are born due to loss in water, if they survive the life span expectancy isn't very high.

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Signs and Signs

Although it is relatively frequent, as mild forms are easy to confuse with other skin problems, it could be problematic for doctors to diagnose ichthyosis. However, as conditions such as eczema in many cases are treated with steroids, to which ichthyosis doesn't respond (see below), it's very important to have the correct diagnosis.

Here are some signs to watch out for if you believe you or your children have Ichthyosis Vulgaris, the most common kind:

  • Scaling on the front-of the legs

  • Scaling to the back of the arm

  • Scaling on-the back or scalp

  • Scaling o-n forehead and cheeks, which will be more prominent in children of the younger age

Take into account that there are also certain aspects of your body which are not suffering from the problem, so if you have itchy, scaly skin in these places there is an excellent chance it is something else. These places are: the abdomen, face, front of neck, and folds in front of knees and elbows (which often are prime areas for eczema ).

Treatment Options

Usually constant therapy is required to keep the scaling under control and make the patient feel much more comfortable in her or his own skin, while ichthyosis vulgaris may improve with age. Frequently a two-pronged approach is taken, one an emollient or lotion to moisten the skin, the other an ointment to stop the moisture from evaporating and making the skin dry out even more.

While other alternatives are put into place to take-off the tough scales and reveal softer skin, usually alpha-hydroxy acids are used to hydrate. Salicylic acid is commonly used, what you would use would be determined by the advice of your doctor. Steroids do not usually help even though topical retinoids may be useful.

In Jenna's case, she was encouraged to apply both a lotion and cream many times each day, and to wrap her legs in cellophane every evening once they were sufficiently creamed. Inside a few months her condition improved to the point where the scales were no longer visible at all. 'I actually have been returned my life,' she says.

The info in this article is not meant to substitute for the medical experience and assistance of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any conclusions about treatment or care an appropriate health care provider.


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    June 2013