What is thyroid disease?
Thyroid disease is characterised by a misfunction in the productivity of the thyroid gland. The butterfly-shaped gland sits in the neck and produces hormones that are responsible for coordinating different functions in the body. The gland sends signals to the muscles, organs, skin, and other tissues to communicate to the body.
Thyroid hormone coordinates growth, metabolism, and energy. Euthyroid – a normal amount of thyroid hormone – is the ultimate place to be! When the hormones are either too high or too low this can cause hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism respectively. The result? Damaged hair and nails, and skin that’s pretty much struggling for its life. The thyroid gland itself affects numerous different body systems making thyroid disease cause several conditions with overlapping symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of thyroid disease include weight changes, temperature sensitivity, menstrual changes, physical changes in the face, and dry, brittle hair.
Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism in specific include increased appetite, rapid heartbeat, feeling shaky, nervousness, intolerance to heat, bulging of the eyes, visibly swollen neck, muscle weakness, vision changes, sleep issues, weight loss, and darker skin in the creases of the gums or anywhere else in the mouth. Common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, low tolerance for cold temperatures, constipation, decreased sexual interest, high blood cholesterol levels, depression, fatigue, numbness and tingling in the hands, soreness, drooping eyelids, itchy skin, puffiness in the face, horse voice and brain fog.
Skin changes associated with thyroid disease
Thyroid disorders are known to involve all the organ systems of the body and the skin is no exception. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are known to cause skin changes. (Dogra et. al., 2006).
Hyperthyroidism has the following effects on the skin:
- Thin, warm, moist, velvety skin
This is because the skin is properly hydrated yet the epidermis is unusually thin. An increase in blood flow to the skin also occurs resulting in increased warmth.
- Abnormally excessive sweating
When the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine, metabolism increases causing rapid heartbeat which leads to excessive sweating particularly in the palms and soles. This occurs due to increased sensitivity to heat.
The pituitary gland releases a hormone that can be broken down to produce the hormone responsible for pigmentation on the skin. This results in darker palms. For more on hyperpigmentation, check out our recent article here.
Hypothyroidism has the following effects on the skin:
- Rough, pale, wrinkled, scaly skin
The skin changes the texture and becomes dehydrated resulting in the skin being covered with fine scales and becoming rough in 57% to 59% of those affected. This condition is referred to as xerosis.
- Decreased sweating
Eccrine glands are major sweat glands mainly concentrated in the palms and soles. A decrease in their secretion, in turn, causes decreased sweating and discolors the palms and soles while making them dry and coarse.
- Poor wound healing tendency
Healing takes longer depending on how deficient one is in thyroid hormone. The higher the deficiency, the longer it takes to heal!
Tips for managing and treating skin problems associated with thyroid disease
- Eat a low-iodine diet
Eating iodine-rich foods for the most part worsens hyperthyroidism! Seafood has the most amount of iodine. Avoid sushi, prawns, crab, lobster, and fish. Seaweed and algae should also be avoided. Other types of food you need to watch out for due to their high-iodine content include dairy products and eggs.
These control symptoms without lowering levels of thyroid hormone. Nervousness, rapid heartbeat, and shakiness are significantly reduced. This type of treatment is best paired with another that can treat hyperthyroidism in the long term.
- Radioactive iodine
Radioactive medication is an oral medication that damages overactive thyroid cells causing the thyroid gland to shrink and reduce in size. Thyroid hormone levels go down but the thyroid gland is damaged for good. This type of treatment would require that you take thyroid hormones forever to maintain normal hormone levels.
In severe cases of hyperthyroidism, surgery is the best solution. This would mean that the thyroid gland would be removed which in turn causes hypothyroidism. The good news is that hypothyroidism can always be managed.
- Antithyroid drugs
Antithyroid drugs block the ability of the thyroid glands to make hormones – simple!
- Use mild products on the skin
Guys, ensure the products you are using on both your face and body are mild on the skin! Antibacterial soaps are a no-go zone as they completely dry the skin out. Even when using mild soaps, consider applying them only on the groin and armpits. Soap is not always necessary in other areas, particularly so if you’re dealing with hypothyroidism. Products that make the skin softer and more supple are what you need to get through this temporary hurdle 🙂 Natural oils such as coconut oil can do wonders!
Using a mild cleanser for sensitive skin such as our Cica recipe Cleanser can help increase the moisture content on the skin – shop here.
- Include thyroid superfoods into your diet
Foods that aid thyroid function include baked fish, roasted seaweed, fresh eggs, dairy, and salted nuts. You can get a healthy dose of selenium and omega-3 from incorporating your favorite type of fish be it baked tilapia, salmon, or omena into your diet! These will go the extra mile to decrease inflammation in the body. Selenium is also present in salted nuts – the ideal snack for nut lovers. Seaweed such as nori and kelp (for seaweed lovers), fresh eggs, and dairy contain iodine which is necessary for the balance of hormones.
- See a doctor
Seeing a dermatologist or doctor is necessary to treat thyroid disease. This way you will get tests done which give more insight into the intensity of the condition and the best way to go about managing and treating effects on your skin. This is likely to result in prescriptions for oral medications to restore hormone levels, reversing the effects of hypothyroidism on your skin. Improvements are likely to start soon after starting treatments which is perfect! The only downside is that you will need to keep getting check-ups to alter dosages as this can be a lifetime disease. The best part is if it doesn’t go away you can still manage the disease and lead a very normal life 🙂
- Take supplements
Incorporating supplements such as iodine, zinc, selenium, iron, vitamin B, A and E into your lifestyle will provide the thyroid gland with the nutrients it needs for optimal function.
Risk factors for thyroid disease
Vitiligo is a common inherited autoimmune disorder of pigment-making cells. This means that the body mistakenly identifies the cells as foreign and creates antibodies to attack them (believe it or not) affecting the skin, hair, and oral area! Thyroid disease is also an autoimmune disorder which means that the body’s immune system creates thyroid-specific antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. Thyroid disorders are common conditions in vitiligo patients and vice versa.
Alopecia is commonly linked to many autoimmune disorders with the most common one being thyroid disease. This is a common disease that causes localized hair loss in varying degrees. There are friggin’ 9 different types of alopecia! Some types affect body hair for instance and others moustaches and beards in men.
The body produces more thyroid hormones than usual during early pregnancy for the proper development of the brain and nervous system of the baby. This may cause thyroid hormone levels to peak dramatically resulting in thyroid disease which could negatively impact both the mother and child.
- Family history of certain conditions
If you have a family history of thyroid disease itself, it’s best to get checked and rule out any suspicions. Other conditions that could increase the risk of getting thyroid disease include type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, and pernicious anaemia.