Acne affects about 40 to 50 million Americans, making it the most common skin problem in the U.S. If you suffer from whiteheads, pimples, blackheads or scaly red skin there are more treatments available today than ever before, and even patients with stubborn plugged hair follicles can find relief with some of today's approaches. The key to getting the best results is to see a dermatologist as soon as possible and to follow the prescribed acne treatments closely.
Although teens are the ones most commonly affected by acne, the condition can occur at any age, from infancy through the adult years. In fact, recent research shows an increase in the number of adult women who have begun to develop pimples or scaly red patches in their 30s and beyond; scientists aren't sure why.
Problems develops when tiny openings in the skin called pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The clogged pores offer ideal spots for bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes that normally reside on the skin to hide and multiply. The result is an infection that causes the pores to become red and swollen. When infection moves into deeper layers of the skin, cysts or nodes can form which may cause scarring and permanent discoloration of the skin. Avoiding these permanent effects is one of the reasons why getting treatment is so important.
Signs and Symptoms
Acne may develop on just about any area of the body, including the face, neck, arms, buttocks, chest, back and scalp. It typically appears as blackheads, white heads, pimples (also called pustules), cysts and nodules, frequently appearing as red, swollen bumps or painful lumps and scaly red skin.
In addition to pain, physical symptoms also include scars and darkening of the skin where pimples or zits occur. Many people who have acne may experience significant depression and poor self-esteem which goes beyond a "bad" or "sad" mood. Getting treatment for the skin condition is one of the most important ways of preventing serious depression that can occur when the problem is not properly managed.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis includes a health history and a careful examination of your skin to make sure the condition is actually acne. Once the problem is accurately diagnosed, the doctor will note which types of lesions are present (pustules, papules, blackheads, etc.). Your condition is then graded according to its severity. This allows your dermatologist to determine the best course of treatment. Most treatments include an antibiotic to fight the bacteria that are multiplying and causing the infections. Medical intervention can also reduce inflammation that can cause scarring and redness. Other possible oral medications include isotreinoin and, for women, birth control pills to help control hormonal fluctuations.
In addition, you may be prescribed topical medications and other types of therapy including laser or light therapies, chemical peels, or procedures aimed at draining large cysts.
Outcomes and Follow-up
Even when acne begins to clear or clears completely, a prolonged course of treatment over several years is often required to maintain clear, healthy skin. Your doctor will be able to tell when you're able to discontinue treatment without risk of new breakouts. Getting treatment early is the best way to avoid the physical and emotional side effects that untreated acne can cause.