IntroductionAnyone that spends time in the sun is at high risk of developing Actinic Keratosis (AK). It’s a common skin reaction that accumulates over a period of time, and each moment spent in the sun’s UV rays will enhance the lifetime possibility of suffering from Actinic Keratosis. Older people are more likely to develop these AK lesions as they have accumulated more sun exposure. However that does not mean that younger people aren’t susceptible. People with fairer skin, lighter colored hair and eyes are definitely at greater risk of suffering form AK. Lighter skinned people have less protective pigment, making them more susceptible. Darker skinned people, however, are not immune.
What does Actinic Keratosis look like?Actinic Keratosis are the small crusty, scaly and horn like bumps on the skins surface. They are sometimes very itchy and have a tender, prickly sensation. The horny part is raised, dry and rough and mostly noticed by touch, while the visible part is the base where the skin is inflamed and a darker color than the surrounding skin; usually a brown, pink, or red. In very severe cases the horny bumps can start to bleed. Unfortunately the most affected areas are parts of the body that are the most frequently exposed to the sun rays; the face, ears, neck, chest, forearms, lips, scalp etc. These are also the areas that most affect personal appearance, so treating this skin disorder is usually a priority.
PreventionIn most cases the occurrence of Actinic Keratosis is the beginning to the possible development of skin cancer. The first step is prevention. These are the same tips given to prevent skin cancer:
- Avoid direct contact with the sun for long periods of time without any form of sun protection.
- UVA and UVB sun rays are highly damaging towards the skin, so it is vital that powerful sunscreens are used. They should contain a minimum of 30 sun protection factor (SPF) and block against both UVA and UVB.
- Use sunscreen in winter as well as the summer months.
- Protective clothing is also an important part of protecting the skin against sun exposure. Use hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants and skirt and sunglasses.
- The sun is at its most dangerous between 10 am and 2 pm, try to avoid the sun as much as possible during these hours.
TreatmentNobody wants to walk around worrying about the stares and comments that are directed at one with some abnormality or another. Not only does Actinic Keratosis affect the aesthetic part of our bodies but it is also a risk for later diagnosis of skin cancer that could be fatal. In other words it is vital to treat and more importantly prevent the occurrence of these unwanted crusty horns on the skin. Actinic Keratosis sufferers do have the opportunity to cure the skin of these surface lesions and at the same time prevent the further development of skin cancer. Some methods require time and patience. They are very successful but can leave reddening, scarring, and will require close monitoring to ensure that the AK does not return. Steps to Treatment:
- The first step is to get the correct medical attention and be advised as to what method is most appropriate for each personal case of Actinic Keratosis. The different possible procedures should be discussed with your medical practitioner as the treatment depends on the severity of each case, the advancement of the lesions, and the age of the sufferer.
- The second step is to go ahead with the procedure, using patience and taking good care of the wounds.
- Thirdly, follow up with regular visits to the doctor to monitor the progress.
Treatments available for AK
- Topical medication is one of the very useful and non invasive methods that help to remove both the visible and invisible lesions. Creams like 5-fluorouracil or imiquimod are very effective on the face, ears and neck. These are also known as immune enhancing agents.
- Electrocautery is the technique of burning off the Actinic Keratosis. Local anaesthesia is required and there will likely be minimal bleeding.
Dermatologists routinely remove AK’s with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). Probably the most common way. Better than electrocautery – less scar, quick and cheap. Takes about a second.
- Cryosurgery is the name given to the process whereby the lesions are frozen off with liquid nitrogen. Temporary redness and swelling is possible.
- Photodynamic therapy involves injecting a chemical into the bloodstream which makes the AK lesions more sensitive to any form of light. The AKs are selectively destroyed, little damage is done to the surrounding skin, slight redness and swelling may occur.
- Laser surgery focuses on removing the epidermis and different levels of the deeper skin. It is a finely controlled treatment and fantastic option for small narrow areas.