Causes, symptoms, and remedies for actinic keratosis Health

Causes, symptoms, and remedies for actinic keratosis

Actinic keratosis, or solar keratosis, is a condition that causes lesions or patches on the skin’s outer layer due to prolonged exposure to UV rays from sunlight. It is common among individuals over 40 and can lead to skin cancer if left untreated. Annually, over 40 million people are affected by this condition, particularly those living in high-altitude and sunny areas. While rare, these patches can develop into more severe skin cancer if not addressed promptly.

Excessive exposure to UV light causes damage to skin cells, leading to actinic keratosis. Unlike sunburn, which immediately occurs with prolonged UV exposure, actinic keratosis lesions take years to develop due to repeated sun exposure.

Risk factors
While anyone can get actinic keratosis, some things can aggravate the risks of developing actinic keratosis. These include:

Using tanning beds
Having light-colored eyes or hair
Being 50 or older
Having a history of extreme sun exposure or sunburn
Residing in a sunny environment
Being prone to sunburn
Having a past actinic keratosis episode

Actinic keratosis usually starts as a scaly and crusty patch of thick skin, about the size of a small pencil eraser. The affected area may also feel itchy. The lesions can stay the same, grow bigger, disappear, or progress into squamous cell carcinoma. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict whether the lesions will become cancerous. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible if one notices any of the following changes:

Rapid enlargement
Lesion hardening

To determine if someone has actinic keratosis, a healthcare provider can examine their symptoms and may order further tests, like a skin biopsy. During the biopsy, the healthcare professional will take a small skin sample for analysis in the lab. Even after treatment for actinic keratosis, a doctor may suggest a yearly skin examination to check for signs of skin cancer.

The treatment for actinic keratoses is determined by how many patches are present and their appearance. A doctor may recommend removing the patches during an office visit. To remove the actinic keratosis, the healthcare provider may use:

Chemical peels
These are medical-grade face masks that the healthcare expert will apply on a patient’s skin during the office visit. The chemicals safely destroy unwanted patches in the top skin layer. Initially, the treated area will be red and sore, but as the skin heals, one will see a healthy, new skin layer.

The doctor may recommend cryotherapy if an individual has one or two actinic keratoses. As part of the treatment, the doctor will employ liquid nitrogen or any other cold substance to freeze the skin growth, and in only a few days, these growth blister and peel off.

The doctor will first numb the skin surrounding the actinic keratosis in this treatment. The provider then cuts out or scrapes the actinic keratosis and stitches this area back together. The wound takes two to three weeks to heal.

Photodynamic therapy
A healthcare provider may use a light-sensitive chemical solution on the affected skin and expose it to a special light to eliminate actinic keratosis. However, it could cause side effects such as inflamed skin, swelling, and a burning sensation during treatment.