Icthyosis (patient information)

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What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

Where to find medical care for (Icthyosis)?


What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Raviteja Guddeti, M.B.B.S. [2]


Ichthyosis vulgaris, also known as fish scale disease or scaling skin, is a common skin disorder passed down through families that leads to dry, scaly skin. People or animals with ichthyosis have scaly skin which can vaguely resemble the scales of a fish.

What are the symptoms of Icthyosis?

The symptoms of Icthyosis include:

  • Dry skin, severe
  • Scaly skin ( scales)
  • Possible skin thickening
  • Mild itching of the skin

The dry, scaly skin is usually most severe over the legs but may also involve the arms, hands, and middle of the body. Persons with this condition may also have many fine lines over the palm of the hand.

What causes Icthyosis?

Ichthyosis vulgaris is one of the most common of the inherited skin disorders. It may begin in early childhood. The condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. That means you only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent in order for you to inherit the disease.

The condition is often more noticeable in the winter. It may occur along with atopic dermatitis, keratosis pilaris (small bumps on the back of the arms), or other skin disorders.


Your doctor can usually diagnose this condition by looking at your skin. Tests may be needed to rule out other possible causes of dry, scaly skin.

Your doctor will ask you if you have a family history of similar skin dryness.

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

  • Symptoms continue despite treatment
  • Symptoms get worse
  • Skin lesions spread
  • New symptoms develop

Treatment options

Your doctor will recommend heavy duty moisturizers. Creams and ointments work better than lotions. Apply these to moist skin immediately after bathing. You should use mild, non-drying soaps.

Your doctor may tell you to use moisturizing creams that contain chemicals that help skin to shed normally, including lactic acid, salicylic acid, and urea.


If you have this condition, be aware that your children are at risk for developing it.

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Ichthyosis vulgaris can be a nuisance, but it rarely affects your overall health. The condition usually disappears during adulthood, but may return years later.

Possible complications

A bacterial skin infection may develop if scratching causes openings in the skin.