The skin is the body’s first line of defense and it plays a wide and varied role in protecting our body. We often strive to take wonderful care of it, slathering on lotions, creams, serums, and sunscreens to keep it healthy and hydrated. However, the American Thyroid Association reports that upwards of 20 million Americans have a subtle, often unknown condition that endangers their skin in serious ways.
Deep within the neck, a small gland, known as the thyroid gland uses iodine from our diet to secrete a hormone known as T3 and T4 that effects every cell and organ within the body, including our skin. When our thyroid malfunctions and produces too much or too little of these hormones, the entire body is put in danger. Often worrisome signs of thyroid issues reveal themselves with abnormal skin. These concerning skin issues are easily confused for other illness or conditions that have similar symptoms. The thyroid is often the last thing checked; usually long after other skin treatments have failed. For this reason, a thyroid diagnosis often takes far too long for patients. When dealing with skin abnormalities, consider these thyroid-related symptoms before settling for traditional diagnoses.
When the thyroid gland produces an inadequate amount of T3 and T4, the body’s vital systems such as heart rate, breathing, temperature, and metabolism do not function at the proper rates. This particular thyroid disease is more prevalent among women and affects approximately 4.6 of the US population. The skin responds in unique ways when thyroid hormone levels are too low. Symptoms include:
- Cold, pale skin, especially in the hands and feet.
- Dry and coarse skin that is reoccurring and doesn’t clear up with lotions or skin care.
- Yellowish skin color
- Eczema, dry cracking and pave-like lesions
- Puffiness in the eyelids, face, hands, and feet.
- Slow healing, prolonged scars
- Skin disorders that result from an overabundance of a jelly-like carbohydrate substance known as mucin. When too much of this substance is present within the skin, specific types of rashes and irritations occur.
Just as the body malfunctions when not given enough T3 and T4 hormones, serious health issues occur when the thyroid produces too much. High levels of these substances result in extremely fast bodily functions. Body systems such as the cardiovascular, metabolism, and nervous system do not function at the right rates. The skin often acts as the body’s early warning system for internal dangers and health conditions such as these. When elevated levels of T3 and T4 are present the skin warns us with these symptoms:
- Flushing, abnormal red coloring in the face and hands
- Skin that is unusually warm and moist with a smooth texture
- General itchiness
- Reoccurring hives
- Hyperthyroidism may also result in a serious illness known as Grave’s disease. Red, swollen nodules occur on the shins, calves, and feet as a symptom of this disease
If you have notices any skin disorders resembling those of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, always check with your doctor and express your concern. Skin disorders are often tricky to diagnose. A referral to a dermatologist is always helpful to isolate each symptom’s unique cause.
Your doctor or dermatologist will perform several key tests to confirm whether a thyroid condition is responsible for your skin issues. A physical exam is performed in addition to lab work to check your thyroid’s function. Blood tests reveal the individual levels of T3 and T4 present within your body. A similar blood test also reveals whether certain antibodies known as anti-TPO are present and attacking your thyroid’s hormones. The importance of testing is extremely vital; over 13 million American’s with thyroid disease are not aware of their condition and have not been tested.
If these blood tests confirm a diagnosis of an either over or under-active thyroid, your doctor will begin the treatment process. Popular treatments begin with medication, but treatment involving radioactive iodine or surgery is useful for more extreme cases.
Our skin works like a billboard, advertising what’s happening within us. By knowing what these signs and symptoms are trying to tell us we have an insider’s view of how well our body is working. Don’t ignore the body’s warning signs.