Skin-deep Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Here in Arizona, dry, flaky, and itchy skin is a common problem because we get 335 days of sunshine. But my sister Bev, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease, experiences the same problems with her skin during the frigid winters in Ohio, where she lives.
Parkinson’s disease is usually associated with motor control issues, but people with the disease can also have problems with their skin, such as excessive sweating and seborrheic dermatitis, and they are at a higher risk for melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Sweating, temperature regulation
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, people with Parkinson’s can undergo “pathologic changes in the parts of the brain that regulate temperature, as well as in the nerves that regulate the sweat glands,” which can cause them to sweat more or less, or both.
Bev has intermittent excessive sweating issues.
“I will just be sitting and watching TV, and all of a sudden there is sweat dripping on my forehead and on the back of my neck,” she told me.
Bev also experiences cold hands and feet, and she gets chills. Once while visiting me in Arizona, she complained of suddenly feeling very cold, and she put on a long flannel nightgown, a robe, thermal socks, and gloves. My sister is a survivor of colon cancer, for which she received chemotherapy, which also has affected her ability to regulate her temperature.
Sweating and temperature dysregulation can be unpleasant, but there are things that Parkinson’s patients can do to manage these issues. They include:
- Discussing adjusting medications or the times they are taken with a healthcare provider, who might also prescribe another treatment if the symptoms become severe.
- Taking lukewarm showers instead of hot showers.
- Wearing lightweight clothing, especially during warm weather.
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Using lotions with moisturizers. (My sis loves Curel.)
Bev takes a shower only once or twice a week as recommended by her doctor, and uses moisturizing lotions frequently. She describes her excessive sweating and dry, flaky skin issues as tolerable, and says she doesn’t want “to be put on more medications.” I totally understand her point of view.
Seborrheic dermatitis, which shows up as redness, scaling, oiliness, and burning pain, can be caused by autonomic dysfunction, according to Dr. Nicki Niemann, a neurologist at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and an assistant professor of neurology at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.
Niemann, who co-authored an article in Parkinsonism & Related Disorders about skin disorders in Parkinson’s, said “reduced facial expression or reduced facial movements, changes in hygiene, changes in lipid composition, and changes in the fungi that are on the skin,” can also result in seborrheic dermatitis. Niemann talks about the association of skin disorders and Parkinson’s in an online video.
A 2021 article in Dermatology explored the use of cannabinoids to control seborrheic dermatitis in people with Parkinson’s, but researchers note that more studies are needed.
My sister does not have seborrheic dermatitis, and not everyone with Parkinson’s develops this condition.
People with Parkinson’s also have a slightly higher risk of developing melanoma, according to a 2010 study published in JAMA Neurology.
Many people with Parkinson’s will not develop melanoma, but the reason for the increased risk is not totally understood. A possible genetic relationship between both Parkinson’s and melanoma, environmental factors, drug interactions, or pesticide exposure are all being considered as possible culprits.
Given all the skin changes that can affect a person with Parkinson’s, it’s important that patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers be aware of these symptoms. Bev sees a dermatologist yearly to have a checkup and evaluation in addition to seeing her primary care doctor and neurologist.
After all, as actress Zoe Saldana says, “Glamour is about feeling good in your own skin.”
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.