Is Rosacea Contagious and Can It Be Cured?

There are many questions surrounding the topic of rosacea, and two of the most common are whether it is contagious and curable.  Affecting about 14 million people in the United States, rosacea is a skin condition characterized by inflammation and redness of areas of the face.  More prevalent in women than men, it often begins between the ages of 30 and 50, and is often mistaken initially for sunburn.

While experts have not uncovered the specific cause of rosacea, it is suspected that an immune response, facial blood vessels that dilate too easily, or a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be involved.  Initially appearing as slightly reddened cheeks, nose, forehead, or chin, this redness becomes more apparent and lasting over time and may be accompanied by burning or stinging.  As rosacea progresses, small bumps and pimples may begin to appear.  These may be accompanied by the appearance of small, thin blood vessels on the affected areas.

Understanding the progression of rosacea lends some insight into concerns about whether the condition is contagious and curable.  Since the redness starts mildly and becomes progressively worse over time, some people think that they have experienced too much UV exposure and simply have a sunburn.  When the redness becomes worse and pimples, stinging, and blood vessels begin to appear, they may liken this to a contagious condition that worsens over time.  In actuality, rosacea does progress, but there is no evidence that it is contagious.  There also is no known cure.

Some of the treatments used to control rosacea also contribute to misunderstanding of the condition.  Though it is not an infectious disease, rosacea does respond well to topical and oral antibiotics depending upon severity, further promoting the misconception that it is contagious.  While antibiotics can reduce redness and pimples over a period of 1 to 2 months, it is thought that the effectiveness of antibiotics may be due to their anti-inflammatory effect as opposed to their destruction of bacteria.

A variety of lifestyle modifications also are recommended for those experiencing rosacea.  These generally involve avoiding things that will trigger dilation of blood vessels in the face and cause flushing.  Among these are alcohol, spicy foods, and extreme weather conditions.  Very cold or hot air and even a windy day can cause symptoms to worsen so it is a good idea to use protective clothing such as a scarf over the cheeks or a hat over the forehead to protect skin on those areas of the face.

As a chronic medical disorder, rosacea commonly is associated with flares and periods of remission.  When long-term effects such as extensive redness and highly visible blood vessels persist, laser treatments and surgery may be appropriate to reduce the impact of rosacea on the appearance.  Even after a surgical procedure, however, patients must maintain their regimen of medications to ensure that the condition remains under control.  Surgery will not prevent a future flare.

While rosacea is neither contagious nor curable, it does respond to medical interventions and lifestyle changes.  The severity of symptoms varies by person so it is important to consult with a physician who can determine the best long-term treatment plan.

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