Dermatology is a medical specialty which focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of conditions relating to the skin and its annexes (hair, nails, and sweat and sebaceous glands).
Venereology is a specialty which deals with sexually transmitted diseases.
Direct links to other medical specialties
Although the limits of the specialty are well-defined, dermatology is directly linked to other medical specialties.
Skin lesions can be indicative of more serious systematic problems that affect different internal tissues and organs. Many different skin symptoms or conditions are actually the first sign of autoimmune or rheumatological diseases that can be potentially serious because they affect the internal organs and/or the osteomuscular system. The best-known example of this is cutaneous psoriasis, which is associated with arthritis in 20% of cases.
It is therefore important to not underestimate any skin lesions, big or small, and always correctly diagnose conditions.
In other cases, dermatological issues can originate from:
- infections: verrucae, shingles, etc.;
- inflammation conditions: acne, psoriasis, rosacea, seborrheic or atopic dermatitis, etc.;
- allergies: hives, eczema, etc.;
- autoimmune diseases: vitiligo, lupus, various types of scleroderma, etc.
Many correlations have also been found between certain skin or hair pathologies (acne, alopecia, dermatitis etc.) and emotional factors and/or stress conditions (psychodermatology). For this reason, training as a dermatologist involves building a solid multidisciplinary understanding of immunology, neurology, infectiology, endocrinology, rheumatology, angiology and phlebology.
Finally, oncological dermatology is also very important as it aims to:
- prevent and treat skin tumour pathologies (melanomas, epitheliums);
- monitor moles and precancerous lesions (i.e. skin lesions, such as actinic keratoses, which may be precursors to skin cancer).
The importance of an accurate diagnosis
Visiting a dermatologist is the first key step to diagnosing diseases which affect the skin, the biggest organ of the human body. As the entire surface of the skin is visible, a dermatologist has the advantage of being able to carry out a full, immediate visual examination alongside many other instrumental checks (blood tests, biopsies, allergy tests, etc.).
In addition, it is essential to establish a detailed personal and family history in order to fully assess the characteristics of cutaneous pathologies. Ultimately, the overall goal of a dermatologist is to find the most effective and best-suited treatment for the patient in order to provide the best possible care.
Depending on the clinical situation of the patient and their specific needs, the specialist will be able to prescribe medical, pharmacological, surgical or cosmetic treatments. Some of the most common therapies used to treat different dermatological diseases or problems include:
- PUVA therapy for psoriasis;
- laser surgery to correct or improve the appearance of scars or lesions due to acne or to reduce dark skin spots (dyschromia), or to remove precancerous lesions;
- dermabrasion, which involves the controlled removal of the superficial layers of skin on the face or body, in order to minimise imperfections such as wrinkles, different kinds of scars, skin patches, stretch marks and even tattoos;
- sclerotherapy, a medical procedure used to treat malformations of blood vessels such as varicose veins and haemorrhoids.
What is venereology?
Historically, venereology began and developed as a branch of dermatology. It deals with venereal (sexually transmitted) diseases which are caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses.
These diseases differ in terms of how contagious they are, their related symptoms and seriousness. Genital tract infections caused by candidiasis or trichomoniasis, viral hepatitis and gonorrhoea are just some examples.