Dermatologists share impact of rosacea on patients’ lives

Top row: Dr. Jerry Tan, Dr. Marcie Ulmer, Bottom row: Dr. Catherine Zip, Dr. Shannon Humphrey

It is a common question doctors ask patients – “How is rosacea affecting your life?” It’s a way of revealing the very real – but hidden – impact of the condition. To raise awareness, dermatologists with the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada share anecdotes illustrating the impact rosacea has had on their patients’ lives. (All patients are anonymous.)

*The main symptoms of rosacea include flushing and facial redness; red bumps and pimples on the face and less commonly, skin thickening particularly on the nose.

Dr. Marcie Ulmer, British Columbia:

“Over the years I’ve treated patients with rosacea who cannot look in the mirror with me in the exam room or refuse to view their before and after photos after treatment, even when they are pleased with the progress and improvement that they feel is there. ‘I just can’t look at myself’ are words I’ve heard. A condition that can erode self esteem over time means that clearing the pimples or reducing the redness is an important first step in their treatment but the psychosocial healing may be a much longer process for some patients.”

“I specifically remember a professional woman with rosacea who confided in me that she was not applying for a promotion at work despite her merits because of the way her rosacea made her look and feel. I still think of her at times and hope that the effective treatment of her rosacea has empowered her to have the confidence to chase her dreams and pursue what she deserves, whether it is a promotion or anything else in her life. “

Dr. Jerry Tan, Ontario:

“A few years ago, a male patient of mine with erythematous rosacea (persistent redness on the face) in his 50s indicated why his facial condition was so impactful for him.”

In his professional role as a contract negotiator between union workers and auto companies, he was concerned that facial redness would indicate either embarrassment, anger or alcohol intake. Any of these would be construed as negative elements in his role between negotiating groups.

Thankfully, effective treatments (in his case, intense pulse light therapies) allowed him to continue his professional activities without the distraction and concern about facial redness.

Dr. Catherine Zip, Alberta:

“I recently saw one of my rosacea patients who had not been in since before the start of the COVID pandemic. She told me that she was back to treat her redness, because she was no longer able to ‘hide behind a mask’.

Her comment made me think about the added difficulties patients with rosacea faced during the pandemic. Early on, some experienced very significant rosacea flares, which they often attributed to mask wearing. Many were essential workers who needed to continuously mask at work. Was it the masks, or were other factors such as increased stress playing a role? More rosacea patients are now returning for treatment, seeking better control of their condition as face-to-face interactions resume.”

Dr. Shannon Humphrey, British Columbia:

“We consistently hear from patients with rosacea that the burning, warmth and heat they experience in their skin is not only uncomfortable but it’s distracting.

From students to busy professionals, from stay-at-home moms to athletes, they all have full and busy lives to lead without the distraction and discomfort of rosacea. I can attest to this myself. When my rosacea is flaring, it’s actually a burning feeling in my skin – it causes distraction in my daily life.”

Dr. Marcie Ulmer, British Columbia:

“Unfortunately, there are still significant misconceptions regarding the signs and symptoms of rosacea. One of the most prevalent misconceptions is that a red face equals a sunburn and the other is that a person with a red complexion or an enlarged nose must drink too much alcohol.

Several patients have come in for treatment because they are tired of being on the receiving end of advice on how to better sun protect their face and tired of outright scoldings for having a “sunburn.” Patients in my practice have absolutely come in to pursue treatment so that others ‘don’t think I’m an alcoholic’.

These judgements are hurtful and are the lived experiences of many of our patients. Public education on the signs and symptoms of rosacea and regarding the excellent treatment options we have available are critical in improving the quality of life of patients with rosacea.”

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