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'I get so red, people think I'm having a heart attack'

One in ten Irish people suffer from a skin condition that affects their sex life and job prospects.

IT AFFECTS UP to one in ten people in Ireland, but not everyone will have heard of it: Rosacea.

The HSE describes it as “a common but poorly understood chronic skin condition”. People with rosacea may experience spots and persistent redness of their skin.

Small blood vessels in the sufferer’s skin can become visible. In the most severe cases, the skin can thicken and enlarge, usually on and around the nose.

It predominantly affects fair-skinned people and is twice as common in women, but tends to be more severe in men.

The symptoms – which can be triggered by stress, sunlight or certain foods or alcohol – usually begin between the ages of 30 and 50 years, but it does affect younger people.

Figure 3_Day 1 - Hour 0 Source: Journal of Drugs in Dermatology

There is no cure for rosacea, but treatments are available to control the symptoms, some of which are reimbursed by the HSE.

Professor Martin Steinhoff, Director of UCD’s Charles Institute of Dermatology, said the negative impact of rosacea “should not be underestimated”.

If the condition is not managed appropriately it can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life, and unfortunately people can be judged negatively as a result of its visible nature.

Steinhoff told TheJournal.ie many of his patients have had embarrassing encounters because of rosacea.

He said job interviews can be a particularly stressful situation as the person may give the impression they are not telling the truth.

“If the person is going red sometimes the interviewer thinks they are lying because flushing is associated with lying.”

Avoiding social interaction

Steinhoff said some people’s sex life is also adversely affected as they avoid social situations and meeting new people.

RNF5431-Steinhoff, Martin  - P35x7 Professor Steinhoff

“Many patients have stopped socialising because they don’t feel like they are attractive,” he noted.

Eoin Kennedy (37) knows this scenario all too well.

“If I start off with a flush in the morning, I’ll sit at my desk for the entire day. I won’t mingle with people. I’ll cancel events … It does look as though I’m angry or like I’m going to have a heart attack.”

Eoin gave up gaelic football in favour of golf – so he doesn’t have “to mix with anybody”.

My whole face gets very red, not just a certain area. I’ve seen people staring at me when that happens. For no reason, when I walk down a corridor I light up like a Christmas tree … It’s one of those embarrassing conditions because it’s on my face, directly in front of people.

Eoin said people often assume he’s hot-tempered or has been drinking, because of the way he looks.

Bullying

Eoin had his first bout of roascea when he was 16 years old. He said the bullying he experienced as a result has had a huge impact on his life.

He recalled how “everyone had acne” in school but his condition was much worse, leading to him being picked on.

“People would kind of look strangely at me or not talk to me in school because of it,” he recalled.

acne Source: Shutterstock

“I didn’t get help at the time, I thought it was just part of acne … for me it was just part of being a teenager.”

The condition “came back quite strongly” when he was about 22 years old. At the time, he had just started his first job in IT and said some of his colleagues slagged him because of his rosacea, while others ignored him.

I had just started working, I didn’t want people to think I was somehow deformed … It was very difficult.

Eoin was initially diagnosed as having dermatitis before a specialist realised what the real problem was.

“Literally as soon as he saw me he said: ‘That’s rosacea.’”

He said a course of steroids “improved things but it never cleared up”. He used make-up to help cover up the redness but said this made him uncomfortable.

Eoin’s father has psoriasis but no other skin conditions run in his family.

Overcoming depression

About a year and a half ago, Eoin began taking anti-depressants – largely due to unresolved issues caused by the bullying he endured.

The anti-depressants are calming me down, I don’t have the same reaction.

Eoin has also cut down on alcohol and tries to go outside as often as he can.

He said it was very difficult to meet someone because he rarely socialised, and met his girlfriend at a dungeon-themed party where the lights were very low

“We couldn’t really see each other and I was comfortable with that.”

Eoin said because she intially got to know him without noticing his rosacea it was easier for her to realise “it’s just a skin condition, as opposed to me”.

More information on the treatment reimbursed by the HSE can be viewed here, while an app for sufferers of rosacea is available for Android here or Apple here.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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