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Alternate Names

  • fish scale disease
  • Ichthyosis


Ichthyosis is a group of disorders characterized by excessively scaly and dry skin. It is usually passed from parent to child but in rare cases, the genetic mutation occurs spontaneously.

What is going on in the body?

In each of the various forms of ichthyosis, the skin's natural shedding process is slowed or the production of skin cell is too rapid. This causes water to be lost through the skin.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Ichthyosis is one of the more common inherited skin conditions. It may begin in a child as young as 4 years old.


What can be done to prevent the condition?

There is no known prevention for ichthyosis.


How is the condition diagnosed?

The diagnosis of ichthyosis is made primarily on the appearance of the skin. A family history of similar skin dryness may also be a key to diagnosing the condition.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

  • overheating from not sweating normally
  • impaired eyesight or hearing due to skin buildup in the eyes or ears
A bacterial skin infection may develop if the person scratches the dry skin.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Ichthyosis is not contagious. However, because it is an inherited disorder, children of an affected parent are more at risk of developing this condition. Genetic testing is available.


What are the treatments for the condition?

Creams and ointments may reduce symptoms of ichthyosis. They are most effective when they are applied to wet skin right after bathing. Mild non-drying soaps should be used. Moisturizing creams that contain chemicals that help the skin to shed normally, such as lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea, may also be used. In severe cases, oral medications known as systemic retinoids may be helpful.
In severe cases, oral medications known as systemic retinoids may be needed (i.e., Accutane).

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

No side effects are likely to occur from topical treatment, but systemic retinoids must be carefully monitored for toxicity and side effects. These include liver toxicity, elevated blood lipids, excessive dryness, visual disturbances, joint and muscle pain, and easy sun burning. Pregnancy must be avoided while taking systemic retinoids because they are likely to cause birth defects in an unborn child.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Ichthyosis is a chronic, inherited skin disorder that requires ongoing treatment.


How is the condition monitored?

Ichthyosis is monitored by the affected person. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.


The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

Hill, Marcia J. Skin Disorders: Mosby's Clinical Nursing Series, 1994

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