Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory disease characterized by skin rashes, chronic muscle inflammation and weakness. The only reason to include this uncommon condition is that it can sometimes early on be confused with eczema of the eyelids or facial dermatitis.

The rash typically occurs as patches of dark red or purple discolorations on the skin, and commonly appears on the face, eyelids, knees, elbows, knuckles, chest, back and around the nails. Rashes are the usually the first symptom of the disease. Progressive muscle weakness accompanies the rash symptoms. Muscles closest to the trunk of the body are typically affected, such as the ones in the shoulders, thighs, upper arms and neck. The muscle weakness occurs in a symmetrical manner, meaning the left and right sides of the body are affected equally. Individuals (especially children) can often develop hardened deposits of calcium under the skin. This condition commonly occurs in children or in adults over the age of 60, and typically affects more women than men. Over time, this condition tends to worsen, but in some cases, periods of remission may occur. With proper treatment, the symptoms of dermatomyositis may be improved.

Common symptoms of dermatomyositis include:

Rash: Patchy rashes that are dark red to purple in color often appear on the face, eyelids, knees, elbows, knuckles, chest, back and around the nails. These often precede or accompany symptoms of muscle weakness and fatigue.

Muscle weakness: Muscles in the upper arms, thighs, shoulders and neck progressively get weaker over time. Both sides of the body are affected equally.Additional symptoms of of dermatomyositis include: Calcium deposits under the skin Swelling Fatigue Weight loss Difficulty swallowing Shortness of breath

The cause of dermatomyositis is unknown, however it is thought that some individuals are more genetically prone to developing this condition than others. Sun exposure is known to make symptoms worse. In older individuals there is an association with underlying cancers. Removing the cancer in some cases, may relieve the condition.

Proper skin care is important in maintaining healthy skin. Considering symptoms of dermatomyositis may be aggravated by sun exposure, look for moisturizers that contain UV filters, which can offer additional safeguards against UV radiation. Make sure to apply these frequently and generously, to adequately hydrate and protect the skin. Use gentle cleansers that are fragrance and allergen free to avoid irritating skin affected by rashes.

If you spend time outdoors, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging UV rays.

Limit sun exposure: Reducing your time in the sun is perhaps the easiest way to avoid damage to your skin caused by UV rays. When outdoors, set a time limit and seek shade when necessary. Also keep in mind that UV radiation is the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. UV light not only damages DNA, which produces skin cancer, it also has an effect on reducing the immune system in the skin, permitting the development of cancers.

Use Sunscreen: Sunscreens are an essential part of protection against the sun. Look for sunscreens that are labeled “Broad Spectrum”. They are often the most effective and offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure to apply generously and frequently. Select a sunscreen that feels comfortable on your skin, otherwise you may not use it regularly.

Cover and protect: Wrap-around sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and clothing that covers your arms and legs, can offer extra protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids to reduce symptoms of swelling. Medications such as azathioprine, methotrexate and other immunosuppressants, may also be used to reduce inflammation.

Surgery may be needed to remove painful calcium deposits under the skin. Physical therapy is also highly recommended to prevent muscle atrophy.