Most people have no idea just how important their thyroid is to their appearance. In fact, in the United States, the most under-diagnosed condition is a malfunctioning thyroid, with the underactive thyroid being the most difficult to diagnose. So many of the symptoms of thyroid malfunction look like other conditions, this is especially true of skin problems. Dry skin, rashes, discoloration, acne and edema are just a few of the skin problems associated with thyroid issues.
Intense dry skin is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism that is often misdiagnosed as eczema, seborrhea or psoriasis. This type of dry, scaly skin does not respond to typical lotions, creams and ointments. Thyroid-induced dry skin is one of the symptoms that seems to clear up the fastest as the sufferer’s thyroid hormone levels are optimized with supplementary thyroid hormone treatment.
Hyperthyroidism, or over-active thyroid, can cause a skin condition called “pretibial myxedema” where the skin between the knees and ankles get thickened and has raised bumps. More rarely, hives and pruritus (intense itching) can be found when the body is producing either too much thyroid hormone or too little hormone.
Hyperthyroidism can produce increased pigmentation of the skin and red palms of the hands. Hypothyroidism can turn the skin yellow, as the body changes how it metabolizes Vitamin A. This is a condition called carotenemia and can easily be misdiagnosed as a jaundice due to liver problems.
While acne may be common in teenagers, when it begins cropping up on someone who is well past their teen years, hypothyroidism may be the cause. It is not unusual for acne breakouts to occur on the face and back when you’re a teen, but when acne starts appearing in your hair or chest, as well as the face and back, then you may be dealing with an underactive thyroid.
When water or fluid is retained in the tissues of the body, it is referred to as edema. While mild cases of hypothyroidism may result is a five- to 10-pound weight gain mainly due to water retention, severe hypothyroidism can show the edema effects on the skin. The face and the extremities can appear swollen as lymphatic drainage is compromised. Swelling and puffiness are not attractive, and this fluid retention can be dangerous and contribute to congestive heart failure.
Correcting Thyroid-Induced Skin Problems
The best way to correct any thyroid-induced skin problem is to address the malfunctioning thyroid. In cases of hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid is producing too much hormone, the standard treatment is to irradiate the thyroid glands, destroying them. The patient will then need to take supplementary thyroid hormone for the rest of their life. In cases of hypothyroidism, supplemental thyroid in the form of synthetic or natural thyroid hormone will be prescribed. In both cases, as the thyroid hormone levels are optimized, the skin problems will usually disappear entirely.