Ichthyosis Vulgaris

What is Ichthyosis Vulgaris?

Ichthyosis vulgaris is a skin condition sometimes called “fish scale disease” because dead skin cells accumulate in areas on the skin, resembling the pattern of fish scales.

Most cases of ichthyosis vulgaris are inherited. The genes that cause it may be passed on from the mother or the father. Children who receive one gene may have a very mild form of the disease; children with genes from both parents will have a more severe case.

Sometimes, ichthyosis vulgaris can be present in patients with other diseases, like cancer or AIDS, who don’t have a genetic predisposition to getting it. This is called acquired ichthyosis.

What are the Symptoms of Ichthyosis Vulgaris?

People with ichthyosis vulgaris have rough, scaly skin patches that usually show up on the legs. Sometimes the condition can affect your arms, hands and trunk as well. If you have ichthyosis vulgaris, you may also see fine lines on your palm.

Severe cases of the disease can cause cracks in the skin that may be painful.

The symptoms of ichthyosis vulgaris usually improve in warm, humid climates. Cold and dry weather can increase skin flaking and scaling.

Ichthyosis Vulgaris Causes

In most cases of ichthyosis vulgaris, the condition is caused by genes which they have been inherited from either one or both parents. The parents of the affected individual may not have ichthyosis vulgaris themselves, but may simply pass on the genes which cause the condition. Cases of ichthyosis vulgaris which are genetic are usually identified because symptoms arise during childhood.

It’s also possible to develop ichthyosis vulgaris suddenly as an adult, and in these cases, it appears that factors other than genes cause the condition. These instances of ichthyosis vulgaris appear to be caused by other diseases present in the individual.

Some medical conditions known to cause ichthyosis vulgaris include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Some types of cancer such as Hodgkin lymphoma
  • HIV
  • Thyroid disease
  • Sarcoidosis

Certain medications can also trigger ichthyosis vulgaris. Vemurafenib and protein kinase inhibitors, both of which are used to treat cancer, are particularly well-known causes of the condition.

How is Ichthyosis Vulgaris Treated?

There is no cure for ichthyosis vulgaris, so treatment controls the symptoms.

Treatment includes

Moisturizers and products that exfoliate dead skin cells may be applied topically to remove the scales.

You may also be prescribed an oral retinoid medication that reduces skin cell production. However, these drugs have some side effects, including inflammation of the eyes and lips and hair loss, so they are usually only given to patients with severe symptoms.

Ichthyosis Vulgaris Prevention

Ichthyosis vulgaris cannot be prevented, but it can be successfully managed to minimize the risk of complications such as infections, impaired eyesight or hearing, or overheating. Certain lifestyle changes, as well as treatment administered by healthcare professionals, can help to slow the progression of skin damage.

Firstly, taking regular, long baths can help to soak and soften the skin, which can then be rubbed with a loofa or pumice stone. This might help to prevent the buildup of new scales. It may also help to leave the skin a little damp after bathing to help it retain moisture.

It’s important to apply a moisturizing cream regularly, particularly after bathing. Choose products which contain ingredients known to help ichthyosis vulgaris. Urea and propylene glyocl are known to help retain moisture, while lactic acid can help to shed dead skin cells.

Finally, avoid dry environments which contribute to skin losing moisture. It may be helpful to use a portable humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air around you.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 16, 2018