As unpleasant as it might be to think about, there are microscopic mites, called Demodex mites, that live on our skin. Recent research points to these mites as a possible cause of rosacea. These studies have found that people with rosacea often have four to 10 times the number of Demodex mites than those without rosacea.
Rosacea is a skin condition which causes flushing, redness, pimples and thickened skin on the face. It occurs most often in middle age and older adults and is more common in women than in men. Anyone, with any skin type or color, can get rosacea, however, it is more commonly found in people with fair skin. It is thought to be hereditary, which means if your parents have rosacea, you have a higher chance of developing it as well.
For some people, rosacea is an annoyance, causing uncontrollable flushing and redness. Others experience painful, pus-filled spots resembling a severe case of acne. It can affect the eyes, causing eye irritation and redness. The pain and embarrassment that can accompany rosacea can lead to isolation and depression.
There is currently no cure for rosacea. Traditional treatment for rosacea include oral and topical antibiotics which can help to relieve symptoms, decreasing inflammation and redness. Some treatments do cause severe side effects. As with many chronic conditions, treatments are geared toward reducing symptoms rather than treating the cause.
Past theories on the causes of rosacea suggested vascular problems, due to the uncontrollable flushing. Some believed this could indicate a problem with blood flow to the face. Another possible cause was an intestinal bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, which can contribute to duodenal ulcers. Scientists believed that increased gastrin levels from this bacteria might lead to flushing, however, studies have shown that people with rosacea do not have more of this bacteria than those without rosacea.
New research, however, has found a possible cause which could lead to better and more effective treatments. Demodex folliculorum is a microscopic skin mite found on all people. These mites usually don’t cause any problems, however, scientists have found that people with rosacea have an overabundance of these mites and believe that this might cause an immune response or that rosacea symptoms are a result of bacteria from the mites.
The idea that Demodex causes or contributes to rosacea has been around for years, but scientists and medical professionals viewed the connection as unproven and controversial. That has changed over the past few years as a number of new studies have linked Demodex with rosacea. At a presentation at the American Academy of Dermatology’s summer meeting in 2014, Dr. Erin Lesesky presented a review of 48 studies saying that there was a significant association between Demodex and rosacea and that this might be “a missing link for treatment of patients” who have not responded to traditional therapy.
According to Galderma Laboratories, the manufacturer of the topical treatment, clinical studies have shown improvement in rosacea symptoms as early as two weeks after treatment began with continued improvement as treatment continues. Side effects of this treatment are burning sensation and skin irritation. This treatment is an effort to treat the overabundance of Demodex mites rather than only treating symptoms of rosacea.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.