Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation. It can affect several organs of the body including the heart, kidneys, joints, blood vessels, lungs, brain and the skin. The severity of the disease and the exact symptoms vary from person to person. This is a lifelong disease. However, with proper care, one can keep the symptoms of the disease under control.
Skin rash is a common symptom of lupus. This is a chronic skin condition. Skin problems developing out of lupus are divided into three main categories – chronic cutaneous lupus, also known as discoid lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus and acute cutaneous lupus.
Lupus rash types
Chronic cutaneous lupus or discoid lupus is characterized by chronic inflammatory lesions on the face, scalp, ears and other parts of the body. The lupus rash might cause scarring on the scalp, resulting in bald patches. The lesions usually have thick scales on the exterior. The thick or wart-like lupus lesions are also known as hypertropic or verrucous discoid lesions.
The discoid lupus lesions might even appear as firm lumps in the subcutaneous fat layer beneath the skin. This is also known as subcutaneous lupus, lupus profundus or lupus panniculitis. Roughly, 10 per cent of discoid lupus progresses to systemic lupus erythematosus, which causes chronic inflammation in other organs of the body.
Subacute cutaneous lupus appears as red scaly patches or red ring-like lesions with scaly edges on the neck, shoulders, arms, trunk and face.In acute cutaneous lupus, red rashes appear on the face in a butterfly pattern. This form of lupus rash is more common in people diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus.
Severe lupus flare-ups in the scalp might damage the hair follicles, leading to hair loss or alopecia. Prompt treatment is recommended for preventing permanent loss of hair. People with active systemic lupus erythematosus might develop vasculitis that appears as red spots or small bumps on the skin, usually on the skin of the lower legs. This is a sign of damage of the linings of the blood vessels. In severe lupus, ulcers or nodules might develop.
Causes of lupus skin rash
The exact cause of developing lupus is unclear. Health experts believe that genetics and exposure to certain environmental factors might make a person susceptible to lupus. Majority of lupus patients are women. Although it might develop at any age, in most cases, this health disorder is diagnosed between fifteen and forty years of age. People of Asian and African origin are more vulnerable to this autoimmune disorder. However, lupus rash affects largely people of European origin.
For unknown reasons, people who experience recurrent Epstein-Barr infections have a higher risk of developing lupus. Epstein-Barr is a common viral infection that causes symptoms such as sore throat, cough, cold and fever. After the symptoms of the viral infection subsides, the virus remains in the immune system in a dormant state. Occasionally, the Epstein-Barr virus reactivates to produce common symptoms of viral infections.
In a small number of people, lupus might develop as a side effect of certain medications. It is linked to certain tuberculosis, hypertension, antipsychotic and heart drugs. Lupus might be triggered by tobacco smoking. Prolonged exposure to certain chemicals such as silica and mercury might cause lupus.
People suffering from lupus rash are extremely sensitive to sunlight. Exposure to sunlight, even for a short period, might trigger skin lesions or rashes. Health experts speculate that in lupus patients, the ultraviolet radiation might trigger production of certain proteins on the surface of the skin. The antibodies present in the body attach themselves to the proteins, triggering an inflammatory response.
Treating lupus rash
Protecting the skin from the solar radiation is the key task of lupus patients suffering from lupus rash. According to health experts, even lupus patients without skin rashes should shield the exposed parts of the body from the ultraviolet light. For unknown reasons, exposure to sunlight triggers production of antibody that triggers lupus flare-ups.
People with lupus should use sunscreen with the highest SPF. They should protect their skin both from the ultraviolet A and B rays. The standard sunscreen products usually feature only a SPF number that indicates the level of protection against the ultraviolet B rays of the sun. Lupus patients should opt for sunscreen products that feature both the SPF number as well as a star system that indicates the ultraviolet A protection level.
Applying a sunscreen product once is not enough. You must reapply the sunscreen crème or lotion frequently throughout the day. A sunscreen powder could also shield your skin from the solar radiation. Sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are most suitable for lupus patients.
You might even consider buying special clothing with integrated sun protection. These are made with fabrics with unique weave structure that shields the skin from the ultraviolet rays. Avoid the sunlight especially between 10AM and 4PM, when it is the harshest. Lupus patients should use sunscreen products and wear protective clothing even indoors. It is advisable to use sun protection even in the night, as artificial sources of light such as halogen or fluorescent lights might trigger skin rash.
If your skin becomes excessively dry, you can use a suitable moisturizer for hydrating the skin. Moisturizers with a green tinting might conceal the red rash on your skin. You can even camouflage the rash with concealers or super thick foundation. Skin care products containing antioxidants could nourish your diseased skin. Avoid cosmetics and skin care products containing ingredients that irritate the skin.
A healthy diet is good for the overall health of a lupus patient. Add enough fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, fish and whole grains in the daily diet. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseeds and walnuts might reduce the chronic inflammation. These essential fats are also good for the skin.
Lupus patients might take 1000mg of fish oil daily. One tablespoon of flaxseed oil might be included in the daily diet of lupus patients. Herbalists claim that evening primrose oil might be beneficial for people diagnosed with lupus. People diagnosed with lupus might even take borage oil.