Skin conditions can be surprisingly tricky to diagnose because completely unrelated conditions may have very similar symptoms. Even an experienced dermatologist may have trouble identifying some skin conditions, and a new med student or a person who uses Google to try to self-diagnose will definitely mix up skin issues. The following skin ailments are frequently mistaken for each other.
Any time a person starts having flaky bits of skin on their scalp, the automatic assumption is dandruff. Unfortunately, just piling on dandruff shampoo will do nothing to fix the problem if it’s psoriasis. Psoriasis is a condition caused by an overactive immune system. Like dandruff, it causes skin to flake off in small bits, leaving behind sensitive, reddened skin. These two conditions are regularly mistaken for each other because mild psoriasis looks like dandruff and severe dandruff looks like psoriasis. However, their underlying causes are different, so different treatments are needed. Psoriasis may only be diagnosed if it continues to occur after trying dandruff treatments.
Over 14 million people have rosacea, yet it still can go undiagnosed for months. Rosacea is a skin disease that causes excessive skin reddening along the nose and cheeks, and skin may swell, look irritated, or develop small bumps. Because a rosacea outbreak looks so much like a bout of acne, it can easily fool inexperienced skincare professionals. The condition is even trickier to diagnose because rosacea sufferers tend to have more acne than others, so skin might exhibit both actual acne and rosacea bumps at the same time. Since harsh skincare products can trigger rosacea, trying an intense acne regimen might just worsen the problem.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the subcutaneous layers of the skin. People with this uncomfortable condition get small, irritated lumps under the skin that hurt, look red, and may drain pus. Since hidradenitis suppurativa occurs in areas where the skin rubs together, it frequently shows up on the groin. As soon as a person hears about painful, pus-filled lumps on the groin, they typically begin suggesting tests for STDs like herpes. Good hidradenitis suppurativa treatment relies on regularly taking antibiotics, hormonal therapy, or retinoids for a long period of time, so any delay in diagnosis makes treatment take even longer.
Both carcinomas and warts are caused by an overgrowth of skin cells, so it is no surprise that they are frequently confused. Both often start out as a small bump on the skin. They may be hard or soft, and they can be skin colored or reddened. Squamous cell carcinomas are particularly likely to look like a wart since they tend to start out as a thick, rough patch of skin. They might look similar at first, but over time, carcinomas tend to itch, hurt, or develop an unhealing wound. However, the only way to confirm that a person has a carcinoma is by biopsying the skin.
Fungal infections and eczema both cause a wide range of vague and uncomfortable skin symptoms. Therefore, it is quite common for the two to be confused. A fungal infection happens when there is an excessive amount of fungal microorganisms growing on the surface of the skin. The most common type of infection is candida, but any fungal infection can cause red skin, itchiness, and tingling pain. Eczema also causes a red, itchy, painful rash, but it tends to be triggered by allergic reactions. Differentiating between the two often relies on checking to see if an antifungal medication is effective or not.
Diagnosing skin conditions can be very difficult, especially as a med student who is still learning the symptoms of each. However, diagnosing skin conditions correctly comes much more easily as the symptoms and treatments of each are learned. Continually familiarizing oneself with these important aspects of diagnosis will help drastically to decrease the confusion that often comes with diagnosing skin conditions.