Dermatology involves the study, research, diagnosis, and management of any health conditions that may affect the skin, fat hair, nails, and membranes. A dermatologist is the health professional who specializes in this area of healthcare.
The skin is the largest organ of the body, which acts as a barrier to protect the internal organs from injury and bacteria. It is also a good indicator of the overall health of the body, making the field of dermatology important in the diagnosis and management of many health conditions.
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Conditions of the hair, skin, or nails are very common and almost everyone experiences symptoms of one or other dermatologic condition at some point in their life. In fact, approximately one in six of all visits to a general practitioner involves a problem of the skin. Some of the most common dermatologic conditions include:
- Acne: pimples on the skin due to inflammation of the sebaceous glands
- Dermatitis: red, swollen and sore skin caused by irritation or allergy
- Eczema: rough and inflamed skin that is itchy and may bleed
- Psoriasis: itchy, red, scaly patches on the skin
- Fungal infections: infection of the skin or nails caused by a fungus
- Warts: small hard growth on the skin caused by a virus
- Cold sore: inflamed blister near the mouth caused by herpes simplex virus
- Skin cancer: uncontrolled growth of skin cells
Each of these dermatologic conditions has characteristic symptoms and should be managed in a unique manner. Additionally, each case will vary considerably in severity, which will influence the treatment decisions.
Therapies in Dermatology
There are several types of dermatological therapies that may be used in the management of skin conditions. These may include:
- Topical medications
- Systemic medications
- Photodynamic therapy
- Laser therapy
Each of these therapies has a specific role to play in the management of certain dermatological conditions. Topical agents are the most common type of treatment, and can be applied directly to the affected area for the desired effect. However, other types of therapy are important for other conditions or particular purposes.
Dermatology as a Profession
A dermatologist is a health professional who specializes in the field of dermatology and is involved in the diagnosis and treatment of hair, skin, and nail conditions.
Although the exact education and training requirements vary according to the country of practice, a dermatologist usually needs to complete medical school and residency (minimum of 6 + 3 years) before commencing a specialized training program in the field of dermatology. The specialization in dermatology typically takes at least four years of intensive study, research, and practice in the field. Continued professional development is also required for dermatologist to demonstrate ongoing competency and maintain their registration to practice.
A trained dermatologist may perform skin surgery to prevent or control skin diseases such as skin cancer, to improve aesthetics of the skin or diagnose a condition of the skin. They are also responsible for the treatment decisions of various dermatological conditions with many types of therapies, including topical agents, systemic agents and other therapies.