Ichthyosis is a term used to describe continual scaling of the skin. In fact, the name of this condition is derived from the ancient Greek word “ichthys”, which means fish, although not all sufferers have fish-like scales. There are many types of this rare condition, which can be inherited (genetic or congenital) or develop later in life. However, Ichthyosis vulgaris is the commonest form of inherited Ichthyosis, which affects one in every 250 people. This is usually quite mild and develops in early childhood with fine, light grey scales and roughness on the arms and legs It is sometimes associated with atopic or childhood allergic eczema, which may cause an increased wrinkling of the palms and soles. Regular application of moisturisers or emollients can alleviate the condition, which may improve in adulthood (although the condition can still be passed down to a sufferers children). Some of the rarer and more severe forms of the condition, such as Harlequin Ichthyosis, can require intensive medical and nursing care.
Harlequin Ichthyosis is a severe genetic skin condition that affects people from birth. It is passed on through the parents but only one in a million people suffer from it, making this type of Ichthyosis extremely rare. It is caused when the skin cannot shed itself fast enough and skin cells reproduce too quickly. A newborn baby suffering from the disease will have skin that forms hard, diamond-shaped plates divided by deep cracks. It looks similar to the diamond-patterned costume that jesters wear in pantomime, known as the harlequin, which is where the condition gets its name. These plates stretch the skin, restricting the baby’s movement, causing lips and eyelids to be turned inside out and the ears to be hidden. Sufferers usually develop extremely poor eyesight and bad hearing as a result of the excess skin. One of the main functions of the skin is to keep liquids in and infections out, so without skin the baby can be badly affected by dehydration, infection or extreme temperatures. The skin is also very tight, which can make breathing difficult for the child. Previously, Harlequin Ichthyosis was always fatal but care is improving. There is no cure for the condition but skin medication and constant attention, such as creams and scrubbing, allows people to have fulfilling and productive lives.
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