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updated: 10/10/2011 7:14 AM

Parents, children can suffer from same skin condition

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An upper respiratory infection seemed to have triggered the little girl's tight cough, but other than hearing a mild wheeze, I found the 2-year-old to be in pretty good shape. She did not have a significant fever, was still eating, drinking and playful, and most importantly, was not showing any signs of serious respiratory distress.

The mother was comfortable with our plan for treating the girl, as she herself had a history of asthma while her husband suffered from respiratory problems due to severe seasonal allergies.

As we wrapped up our visit, the mother asked if she could show me something unusual that she had noticed on her daughter's skin. The little girl had patches of small flesh-colored bumps on her legs -- the same kind of bumps mom had on her upper arms.

The two had the classic findings of keratosis pilaris. This common benign skin condition is known to have a genetic link, so it's not unusual for parents to display the same skin features as their affected kids.

KP, often referred to as "chicken skin" due to its flesh-colored appearance and rough, bumpy texture, is seen most prominently on a child's cheeks, upper outer arms and front of the thighs. At times, KP bumps can become inflamed and reddened.

In his online eMedicine/Medscape article, Dr. Mark A. Crowe explains that these common skin bumps result when hair follicles become plugged with keratin. Forty-two percent of the U.S. population has KP, with varying degrees of skin involvement and inflammation. The author notes that hormones appear to influence KP since 50 percent to 80 percent of teens report some form of the skin condition as they go through puberty.

Crowe also comments that while KP is benign, it can be a bothersome cosmetic issue that is often resistant to therapy, and therefore difficult to treat.

Topical treatments for KP include alpha hydroxy acids -- such as lactic acid -- which help retain skin moisture; emollients with urea that can decrease itch; salicylic acid gels that assist in skin sloughing; retinoids that increase skin cell turnover; and corticosteroids that have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Dermatologists can be consulted to tailor treatment to the individual patient.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic add that though keratosis pilaris can't be prevented, some general skin-care measures can help keep the affected skin moist.

The group recommends taking shorter baths or showers of 15 minutes or less while using warm, but not hot water; using mild soaps instead of the harsher deodorant or antibacterial soaps: patting dry after bathing; immediately applying a thick moisturizer to freshly washed skin; and setting up a humidifier to increase moisture in the home environment.

Dr. Helen Minciotti is a mother of five and a pediatrician with a practice in Schaumburg. She formerly chaired the Department of Pediatrics at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.

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