Dowling-Degos disease is characterized by a lacy or net-like (reticulate) pattern of abnormally dark skin coloring (hyperpigmentation), particularly in the body's folds and creases. These skin changes typically first appear in the armpits and groin area and can later spread to other skin folds such as the crook of the elbow and back of the knee. Less commonly, pigmentation changes can also occur on the wrist, back of the hand, face, scalp, scrotum (in males), and vulva (in females). These areas of hyperpigmentation are not affected by exposure to sunlight.
Individuals with Dowling-Degos disease may also have dark lesions on the face and back that resemble blackheads, red bumps around the mouth that resemble acne, or depressed or pitted scars on the face similar to acne scars but with no history of acne. Cysts within the hair follicle (pilar cysts) may develop, most commonly on the scalp. Rarely, affected individuals have patches of skin that are unusually light in color (hypopigmented).
The pigmentation changes characteristic of Dowling-Degos disease typically begin in late childhood or in adolescence, although in some individuals, features of the condition do not appear until adulthood. New areas of hyperpigmentation tend to develop over time, and the other skin lesions tend to increase in number as well. While the skin changes caused by Dowling-Degos disease can be bothersome, they typically cause no health problems.
The Human Phenotype Ontology (HPO) provides the following list of features that have been reported in people with this condition. Much of the information in the HPO comes from Orphanet, a European rare disease database. If available, the list includes a rough estimate of how common a feature is (its frequency). Frequencies are based on a specific study and may not be representative of all studies. You can use the MedlinePlus Medical Dictionary for definitions of the terms below.
Making a diagnosis for a genetic or rare disease can often be challenging. Healthcare professionals typically look at a person’s medical history, symptoms, physical exam, and laboratory test results in order to make a diagnosis. The following resources provide information relating to diagnosis and testing for this condition. If you have questions about getting a diagnosis, you should contact a healthcare professional.
Wenzel G, Petrow W, Tappe K, Gerdsen R, Uerlich WP, Bieber T. Treatment of Dowling-Degos disease with Er:YAG-laser: results after 2.5 years. Dermatol Surg. 2003 Nov;29(11):1161-2.
Wenzel J, Tappe K, Gerdsen R, Uerlich M, Philipp-Dormston W, Bieber T, Petrow W. Successful treatment of Dowling-Degos disease with Er:YAG laser. Dermatol Surg. 2002 Aug;28(8):748-50.
Altomare G, Capella GL, Fracchiolla C, Frigerio E. Effectiveness of topical adapalene in Dowling-Degos disease. Dermatology. 1999;198(2):176-7.
Living with a genetic or rare disease can impact the daily lives of patients and families. These resources can help families navigate various aspects of living with a rare disease.
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Can Dowling-Degos disease be cured? See answer