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In his own words: living with rosacea

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Ron, a 42-year-old telecommunications executive, noticed occasional red spots on his face. He didn’t realize he suffered from rosacea until a friend clued him in. The Illinois man received the diagnosis from a doctor 10 years ago. Here’s his story.

What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?

At first, occasional red spots would develop on my face. They looked like acne but didn’t go away. I’d especially notice them in photographs. The spots got progressively worse. One day, while playing volleyball, a friend walked up and said, “I’ve got what you have.” He explained about rosacea and that it is treatable. His face looked great. I wanted to take immediate action to cure it. I have since learned rosacea stays with you forever.

I asked a friend who is a nurse about it. She suggested I contact the National Rosacea Society. The organization keeps a list of doctors who specialize in treating the disease.

What was the diagnosis experience like?

I made an appointment with my HMO primary care doctor. During prior visits, he never mentioned that the spots might be treatable. He would just take care of the sore throat or whatever else I went to see him about. He put me on a medication that didn’t work.

Frustrated, I went to one of the dermatologists on the National Rosacea Society’s list. She looked at me for five seconds and said with confidence, “I can get rid of this.” She prescribed two topical creams and 15 days worth of antibiotic pills. After a few months, I thought it was cured, but when I returned to the doctor, she saw a few remaining spots and recommended laser surgery. I declined, because I was happy with the results from the creams.

What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?

I was surprised when my friend came up to me. I’ve got to give him credit for having the guts to say something. I cannot be more thankful to this day. Getting treated early and effectively saved me from the later, more serious stages of rosacea. With the condition under control, I feel better about myself. I’m pretty confident anyway, but not having the spots gives me an extra boost.

How do you manage your disease?

Oral medication and topical creams got rid of the spots. But to keep them away, I need to keep using the cream. Instead of a quick 15 minutes to get up, bathed, and dressed in the morning, I now have to spend a little more time putting on my creams. I feel cured, even though I get an occasional blotch.

Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to your illness?

I didn’t have to make too many dietary changes. There are certain foods I am supposed to avoid, like tomatoes, but I’m not a tomato fan. I don’t drink anything with caffeine. Now, I am much more aware of what I eat.

In my younger days, I spent a lot of time in the sun, which can exacerbate the spots. But now I play fewer sports outdoors, and when I do, I use a sunscreen. I use an electric razor and no aftershave. I’m careful about my face, nothing gets applied to it, except what the doctor orders. I have a stressful job, but stress doesn’t seem to affect my rosacea. I still exercise, which doesn’t bother it, and have an occasional drink, even though I know it may trigger an outbreak.

Did you seek any type of emotional support?

No, although I am very grateful to a couple of friends and a very good dermatologist.

Did/does your condition have any impact on your family?

No, except maybe that our family photos look nicer. I never used to like getting my photo taken; now it’s OK.

What advice would you give to anyone living with this disease?

If you notice you have red spots, don’t ignore it. Rosacea is easily diagnosed and effectively treated. If you suspect rosacea, ask the doctor about it. Once you know you have it, see one of the specialists from the National Rosacea Society list. Going to any old doctor didn’t work for me.

Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.