Across the world, people are discovering strange rashes that seem to have no cause. For the 23% of Americans who suffer from autoimmune diseases, these rashes could be a warning sign of something more serious.
Autoimmune diseases make the body attack its own tissues and organs, and the skin is the body’s largest organ. This can result in scarring, skin sensitivity, lesions, and other forms of autoimmune disease rash.
Read on to learn more about autoimmune disease rashes and treatment options.
What Are Autoimmune Diseases?
Researchers have identified more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. In each of these cases, the immune system stops working in the way it should.
Healthy immune systems block harmful bacteria and prevent dangerous infections. They ward off these intruders to keep us from getting sick. From the common cold to cancer, we need our immune systems to stay healthy.
Problems in the immune system can cause it to start attacking our bodies. When the immune system attacks the host’s body, doctors call it autoimmunity. In this case, the immune system will produce antibodies that bind to and destroy body tissue.
Autoimmune Disease Skin Symptoms
Autoimmune skin diseases create many symptoms. They include:
- Increased sensitivity to sun exposure
- Muscle weakness
- Pain and sensitivity
- Scaly patches
- Sleep disturbances
Of course, simply having one or two of these symptoms does not guarantee that anyone is living with an autoimmune condition. It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of autoimmune skin conditions, and many of them come with different causes and symptoms.
Types of Autoimmune Skin Diseases
Autoimmune disease rashes result from a variety of autoimmune disorders. However, the following conditions are most often associated with skin issues:
Subacute Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus (SCLE)
This type of lupus worsens through sun and UV exposure, but it does not produce scarring. Instead, it creates scaly red patches on the skin. Often, these sun-exposed areas may resemble psoriasis.
People with SCLE face additional risks. They are more likely to develop complications with internal organs being attacked than people with other types of lupus.
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus (DLE)
This is another common form of lupus affecting one and a half million Americans. DLE creates scaly, coin-shaped lesions. Typically, it occurs on the face and scalp, though it can affect other body parts.
Often, DLE causes scarring and permanent hair loss. Also, DLE lesions produce a darkening or lightening of skin color. While these symptoms can be alarming, patients with it are at a low risk for developing complications from systemic lupus.
Neonatal lupus affects newborns and often causes skin lesions. Thankfully, neonatal lupus is rare. It only occurs when the mother of the baby has an immune system issue during pregnancy, which creates the creates Ro autoantibodies that affect the newborn.
Researchers believe these antibodies are transferred into the baby’s bloodstream while in the womb. They then cause skin lesions after the child is exposed to sunlight and other forms of UV radiation.
Neonatal lupus is usually a mild condition. It should go away on its own as the baby ages and the antibodies leave the system. However, serious complications can occur in rare cases. Talk to your doctor if you recognize any of the symptoms in your child.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that affects three million people in the US. In adult women, the condition often produces dryness in the eyes and mouth. Unfortunately, Sjorgen’s syndrome is very difficult to diagnose. When a patient receives a diagnosis, the condition is often quite advanced.
At this point, most patients experience additional symptoms. These include skin and joint pain similar to fibromyalgia, but can also cause body sensitivity, lethargy, and internal tissue and organ damage.
How To Treat Autoimmune Disease Rashes
Treating autoimmune skin rashes can be difficult. Autoimmune diseases vary, so the best treatment method changes significantly. Patients can manage lesions with cortisone-containing creams along with oral medications.
Alternatively, drugs like corticosteroids are often useful when cortisone creams are not effective. Instead, oral medications like prednisone can suppress skin symptoms. But since these drugs have serious side effects, they’re intended for short-term use only.
For conditions like lupus, patients often need additional medication. One of the most commonly prescribed is antimalarial medication hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil). This drug is very safe when patients follow the recommended guidelines and, in most cases, has minimal side effects. That said, patients need to continue regular eye examinations. In rare cases, retinal issues may develop while taking these medications.
Diet for Autoimmune Disease Rash
Aside from medication, doctors advise diet and lifestyle changes to help manage the condition. For instance, people should maintain an anti-inflammatory diet to see if this helps their symptoms. In such a diet, some foods to avoid would include:
- Red meat
- Fried foods
- Processed foods
- Safflower and canola oils
On the other hand, foods to include in an anti-inflammatory diet include:
- Leafy vegetables
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Whole grains
Do I Need to See a Dermatologist?
Most autoimmune diseases are chronic. For this reason, you’ll be better off in the long-term by seeing a specialist. With any form of skin disease, it’s a good idea to see a dermatologist.
Your general doctor will likely be able to recognize your autoimmune disorder. However, dermatologists have a variety of different treatment options and resources available for you that your doctor may not have access to.
Ask your doctor for a referral to find a good dermatologist for your needs.
Outlook: Autoimmune Disease Rash
Rashes are a common side effect of autoimmune disorders. Compared to other chronic conditions, however, the outlook is positive. When a doctor diagnoses and treats the condition early, it’s often possible to prevent long term-internal damage.
Speak with your doctor if you recognize any of these symptoms. With medication, you can reduce visible symptoms and discomfort. Finally, consider an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes. Together, these strategies can help you achieve better overall health.
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