Seborrheic Dermatitis in Adults: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Overview

Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as seborrhea, is a common non-contagious condition of skin areas rich in oil glands (the face, scalp, and upper trunk). Seborrheic dermatitis is marked by flaking (overproduction and sloughing of skin cells) and sometimes redness and itching of the skin. It can vary in severity from mild dandruff of the scalp to scaly red patches on the skin. The normal skin yeast, Pityrosporum ovale, lives in oil-rich skin regions and plays a role in this disorder; the changes seen in the skin are due to the body’s inflammatory response to the yeast found on the skin. Seborrheic dermatitis seems to worsen with stress, winter, and infrequent shampooing. Although there is no “cure” for seborrheic dermatitis, control is usually possible with medicated shampoos and topical steroid solutions, if inflammation is prominent.

Who’s At Risk

Dandruff occurs in 15–20% of the population, and seborrheic dermatitis (with redness and flaking) occurs in 3–5%. The problem affects all races and may be a bit worse in men. It typically starts after puberty (although babies have a version called cradle cap). Seborrheic dermatitis peaks around the age of 40 and then may improve. Severe seborrheic dermatitis is seen frequently in people with Parkinson disease, central nervous system problems, and HIV infection.

Your nose is plagued by dry, itchy, flaky patches that look unpleasant and feel just as bad. Whether caused by infection, sickness, weather or climate change, you don’t have to live with dry flakes marring your face. Treat and protect dry patches to heal your face and help it to its best condition. If the problem persists, make an appointment with your doctor as your condition may require prescription medication.

Causes

We don’t know what exactly causes seborrheic dermatitis. It seems to be a combination of things, including:

  • Stress
  • Your genes
  • A yeast that normally lives on skin
  • Certain medical conditions and medicines
  • Cold, dry weather

It doesn’t come from an allergy or being unclean.

Newborns and adults aged 30-60 are more likely to get seborrheic dermatitis. It’s more common in men than women and in people with oily skin. These medical conditions will also raise your risk:

  • Acne
  • AIDS
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart attack or stroke recovery
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea

Symptoms

Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms include:

  • Skin flakes (dandruff) on your scalp, hair, eyebrows, beard or mustache
  • Patches of greasy skin covered with flaky white or yellow scales or crust on the scalp, ears, face, chest, armpits, scrotum or other parts of the body
  • Red skin
  • Redness or crusting of the eyelids (blepharitis)
  • Possibly itching or stinging

Who gets seborrhoeic dermatitis?

Infantile seborrhoeic dermatitis affects babies under the age of 3 months and usually resolves by 6–12 months of age.

Adult seborrhoeic dermatitis tends to begin in late adolescence. Prevalence is greatest in young adults and in the elderly. It is more common in males than in females.

The following factors are sometimes associated with severe adult seborrhoeic dermatitis:

  • Oily skin (seborrhoea)
  • Familial tendency to seborrhoeic dermatitis or a family history of psoriasis
  • Immunosuppression: organ transplant recipient, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and others
  • Neurological and psychiatric diseases: Parkinson disease, tardive dyskinesia, depression

Treatment

Sometimes, seborrheic dermatitis will clear up by itself. More often, it’s a lifelong issue that clears and flares. It can last for years at a time, but you can control it with good skin care.

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