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What is Rosacea?

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory disorder primarily of the facial skin. The exact cause of rosacea is unclear. There is no permanent cure for rosacea, however medical therapy is available to control or reverse its signs and symptoms.


Rosacea typically begins as redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead that may come and go. Over time, the redness tends to become more persistent, skin swelling and visible tiny blood vessels appear and small bumps often develop. In some patients the eyes are also affected, may be watery or bloodshot and produce a gritty discomfort.

Rosacea is characterized by flare-ups and remissions. In longstanding and severe cases the nose may grow swollen and lumpy from excessive tissue (rhinophyma).

There are 4 types of rosacea, and patients may experience characteristics of more than one type at the same time.

Erythemato-telangiectatic rosacea - characterised by flushing and persistent redness, with multiple visible tiny blood vessels.

Papulopustular rosacea- characterised by persistent redness with transient bumps and pimples.

Phymatous rosacea- characterised by skin thickening, often resulting in an enlargement of the nose from excessive tissue build-up.

Ocular rosacea- characterised by dry eyes, tearing and burning, swollen eyelids, and potential vision loss from corneal damage. Referral to the ophthalmologist may be required for severe cases.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if:

  • You are so uncomfortable with the condition that it affects your quality of life
  • There is widespread involvement
  • Self-care methods have not been effective
  • There is eye involvement
Treatment and drugs

Treatment applied to the skin

Patients with mild rosacea usually respond well to topical treatments. These include antibiotics (metronidazole and clindamycin gel and lotions) and vitamin A derived creams or gels (adapalene and tretinoin).

Oral Antibiotics

In more severe cases, a course of oral antibiotics (usually doxycycline or erythromycin) may be prescribed to control symptoms. These oral antibiotics may exert an anti-inflammatory effect and are usually taken for several months. However, repeated courses may be necessary for patients with frequent recurrences.


In patients unresponsive to oral antibiotics, oral isotretinoin may be prescribed with good result. Adverse effects of isotretinoin include dry lips and skin, muscle aches, hair loss, abnormal liver function tests, raised lipids, muscle inflammation and depression. Female patients should not become pregnant while on therapy as oral isotretinoin can affect the developing foetus.

Laser and Light Therapies

The Pulsed Dye Laser machine can be useful in reducing persistent redness and treating the prominent blood vessels of rosacea. For patients with an enlarged swollen nose (rhinophyma), carbon dioxide lasers can be used to reduce the thickness of the skin
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