There are many diseases and conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, that people are unaware of until they affect them or someone they love. An autoimmune disease is a condition where the body does not recognize its own cells and responds as if they are an invader. This triggers a response where the body ends up waging war on itself. Since autoimmune diseases have varying and unpredictable symptoms, they can be difficult to diagnose. If you or a loved one are experiencing health problems that no one is able to figure out, it is important to seek assistance from someone who specializes in diagnosing complex cases, like an experienced rheumatologist for joint problems or a dermatologist for when you’re having skin problems.
What is scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that can affect both children and adults. There are approximately 200,000 people diagnosed with scleroderma in the US, but because it’s not easy to diagnose many believe the number of people living with the disease is much higher. Although scleroderma is more common in women, many men have the condition as well. The word scleroderma comes from the Greek words sclero, meaning hard, and derma, meaning skin.
Collagen is an essential part of our body. Normally, it is a good thing. It is a protein found in connective tissue, the tissue that helps hold us together. When there’s a build-up of excess collagen, which is the case with scleroderma, the skin can become very hard and inflexible. For people with systemic scleroderma(involving both the skin and internal organs) the excess collagen can build up in their blood vessels and organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract and also cause problems with circulation and sensation in their hands and feet.
Importance of skin care when living with scleroderma
Even though there is no cure for autoimmune diseases like scleroderma, many of the symptoms can be treated to help manage the disease. The skin of people living with scleroderma may be hard and itchy. Despite the skin feeling hard, it is actually quite fragile. Caring for the skin, especially the hands and feet, is essential. Preventing skin breakdown is very important since skin for people with scleroderma may be slow to heal.
Here are a few skin care tips to help get you started
- Be gentle. Your skin needs to be managed with a minimum of friction. Harsh soaps can strip your skin and leave you vulnerable to breakdown and infection.
- Inspect your skin daily, especially your hands and feet. A telescoping mechanic’s mirror will enable you to see your toes and the bottom of your feet easily. Be alert for any signs of discoloration, poor circulation or breakdown.
- Cleanse your skin gently. Avoid harsh soaps and shampoos! Since your skin no longer contains the natural oils and bacterial barrier that protect you, a gentle, pH-balanced, no-rinse skin cleanser, like Welmedix HomeCare PRO No-Rinse Cleansing Foam is ideal for skin and scalp.
- Next, apply a moisture barrier protective ointment, like Welmedix HomeCare PRO Protective Ointment to your hands and feet before putting on gloves and booties. This will help soften, moisturize and protect vulnerable parts of your skin.
- Protect your head, face, arms and legs from the sun with a hat and clothes with ultraviolet protection built in. This can be a big help keeping your skin as healthy as possible.
Remember, although your skin might feel hard, it is actually quite fragile and prone to rashes and infections. Make sure to treat it well and prevent skin breakdown.