The lupus butterfly rash has to be the most visually distinctive symptom of lupus. And for people who suffer from it, it can be a source of a lot of misery. Not only are they afflicted with a painful and chronic disease, they have this bright, visual marker that can make going out in public feel embarrassing.
So, not only do people with lupus feel isolated by the chronic pain of their condition, but they’re forced into social isolation by this visible symptom of their disease as well. But what exactly causes this lupus butterfly rash? And what can you do about it?
To understand the cause of the lupus butterfly rash, you first have to understand the cause of lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune condition. That means that the condition is caused by the immune system attacking your own body. In a healthy immune system, the white blood cells produce antibodies. These antibodies travel through the blood stream and latch onto foreign cells like bacteria or viruses. After destroying one type of bacteria or virus, these cells become conditioned to identify and destroy them immediately the next time they appear.
But when you suffer from an autoimmune condition like lupus, these cells instead become conditioned to attack your body’s own tissue instead. This gradually breaks the tissue down and results in painful inflammation.
When it comes to lupus, these immune cells can attack the skin. They begin to destroy the cells of the skin, which causes your body to overcompensate by producing extra skin cells. The runaway production of skin cells leads to a scaly rash that crosses the cheeks and the nose, resulting in the distinctive “butterfly” shape that gives the symptom its name.
This is similar to what causes psoriasis, which is why the rash is often visually similar to that caused by psoriasis.
We don’t know why it is that lupus causes this specific symptom when other autoimmune conditions don’t, but it’s possible that UV light from the sun plays some role in triggering the rash. People with lupus often report photosensitivity. Some have speculated that UV light might somehow be altering the cells of the skin, which accelerates the autoimmune response.
And it’s interesting to note that not everyone who suffers from lupus will present with the distinctive rash. That implies that there may be some external factors that influence how likely you are to suffer from it. But at the moment, we aren’t sure what those factors might be. It’s possible that it has something to do with genetics or environment. Until we have more information on the subject, however, we won’t know exactly what causes the lupus rash or even how to treat that symptom specifically among other lupus symptoms.
HOW DO YOU TREAT IT?
Basic skin care practices can help with the lupus rash. Make sure to keep your skin moisturized, which helps promote good skin health and helps prevent the rash. And make sure whenever you go out in the sun you’re using a high-quality sunscreen. This will protect your skin from the sun and might help prevent the rash from developing.
Otherwise, the best way to treat your lupus rash is to treat the underlying lupus. And to do so, you first have to handle the inflammation. The inflammation plays the largest role in causing the lupus rash, so many of the basic medications used to treat lupus will be helpful.
NSAID’s are often prescribed to treat lupus, for example. NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, include basic, over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs help fight the inflammation of lupus by blocking the production of a specific enzyme that leads to inflammation.
But if NSAIDs aren’t enough, you might also turn to corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are a hormone your body naturally produces in response to inflammation. But with severe inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, you might benefit from additional synthetic corticosteroids to bolster your body’s natural healing process.
And finally, your doctor can also prescribe immunosuppressant drugs. Immunosuppressant drugs work by reducing the activity of your immune system. This means that your body produces fewer antibodies. And that results in fewer antibodies being free to attack your body’s tissue.
All of these drugs are commonly prescribed to treat lupus. And if you suffer from lupus, odds are good that you’ll find yourself taking some or all of them at some point.