The constant fatigue and a wide variety of symptoms are all extremely difficult to deal with when you have lupus. Aside from the chronic pain, the discomfort that lupus brings also takes a toll on people’s minds and bodies, gravely affecting even their skin.
Medically named lupus erythematosus, lupus is a long-term autoimmune condition that causes inflammation and pain in any part of the body and other internal organs. According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), roughly 1.5 million Americans suffer from some form of lupus.
While the most common of all cases of lupus (systemic lupus) target a major organ or tissue in the body, like the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain, a majority of people with this skin condition develop rashes or lesions in the skin. This is called cutaneous lupus, but why does it affect the skin?
WHEN LUPUS STRIKES THE SKIN
As an autoimmune condition, lupus compromises the body’s immune system to attack its own cells. Instead of fighting upcoming infections to protect the body from getting sick, lupus jeopardizes the body’s defense to attack healthy tissues.
The skin presents itself as a viable area for lupus to inflict damage as it is the largest organ in our body that harbors several types of immune cells. When you have cutaneous lupus, rashes or lesions manifest in areas exposed to the sun such as the face, ears, neck, arms, and legs. As explained by the LFA, there are three different ways of how skin-specific lupus displays itself.
1. Chronic cutaneous (discoid) lupus
This type of lupus appears as red, scaly, and thick disk-shaped lesions on the scalp, face, and other parts of the body as well. Although they do not hurt or itch, these lesions tend to produce scarring and skin discoloration. They can also be photosensitive, so make sure to do the following preventive measures:
- Stay away from sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use plenty of sunscreens when you are outdoors
- Wear sun-protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats
- Avoid spending too much time under indoor fluorescent lights
2. Subacute cutaneous lupus
This type of cutaneous lupus is a non-scarring dermatosis that appears on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the shoulders, upper back, neck, and upper torso.
Subacute cutaneous lesions have distinct edges or sometimes red ring-shaped lesions. Although the lesions usually aren’t itchy and scaly, they can still become discolored.
3. Acute cutaneous lupus
It’s the most common form of cutaneous lupus linked to systemic lupus with internal organ involvement. Acute cutaneous lupus appears as a butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks. When this happens, a person’s disease is already flaring up in other areas of the body, particularly the internal organs.
WHEN THE SKIN GETS ITCHY
Anyone with lupus can attest that the body isn’t always successful in fending off allergens. Since the skin condition is an autoimmune disease, there is a tendency for those diagnosed to develop allergies as well.
According to an article, “Individuals with lupus are up to two times more prone to experiencing atopic dermatitis and asthma than individuals who do not have lupus.” The good news, however, is that some lesions “responded rapidly to local treatment with a potent topical corticosteroid cream and completely disappeared within 1 week,” as explained in a separate report.
During allergy flare-ups, the first diagnosis begins by reading the signs your body gives off. But when the body fails to work properly due to lupus, then there is a need to become proactive.
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommended following certain dermatologists-approved lifestyle habits to reduce flares and prevent lupus from getting worse.
- Protect your skin from the sun. Apply sunscreens every day, seek shade when outdoors, and wear sun-protective clothing.
- Quit smoking as smoking worsens cutaneous lupus, making treatments less effective.
- Stop scratching rashes on your skin as doing so may lead to new itchy patches.
- Before taking medicines, vitamins, or other alternative treatments, always ask your dermatologist.
- Take control of the irritation with topical steroids (cream or ointment).
- Be stress-free and get enough rest as the lack of it may exacerbate symptoms of pain, depressed mood, and fatigue.
- Connect with others who have lupus. Social support is also critical to keep a positive mindset.
While nothing can substitute an effective treatment agreed by both the patient and the patient, certain health habits may still contribute to relieving the effects of lupus. Find an online group or other local support chapters suggested by the LFA here.
The information presented on AllergyKB is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Our knowledge base website is for general informational purposes only. It should not be construed as a standard of care to be followed by a user of the website. We highly urge everyone to always seek the advice of their physician or other qualified health providers.