What is cracked skin?
Cracked skin is a classic symptom of dry skin, but it can also occur in response to scratches or other trauma, or infection. When the skin dries, it can become rough and flaky, with small tears that can lead to deeper cracks called fissures, which can extend into the deeper layers of the skin.
Cracked skin is often accompanied by other symptoms of dry skin, with one symptom often leading to another. For instance, dryness can lead to scaling, scaling can cause itchiness, itching can lead to scratching, scratching can cause inflammation and small tears that can develop into fissures (cracks), and these can lead to further irritation. Treating dry, injured or cracked skin promptly and diligently can help break this cycle.
Causes of dry skin include diet, dry or cold weather, dermatitis, hormonal imbalance, allergic reactions, and other disorders. Other causes of cracked skin include exposure to chemicals such as alcohol, as well as a variety of skin disorders such as eczema (a term for several different types of skin swelling), psoriasis (a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales), fungal infections, ichthyosis (dry, scaly skin present from birth), Sjogren’s syndrome (a disease affecting the production of sweat, saliva and tears), and a variety of other disorders that cause damage to the skin.
In cases of deep fissures, cracked skin can lead to infections. In rare cases, if left untreated, skin infections can become systemic and lead to sepsis (a life-threatening bacterial blood infection).
A break in the skin must always be treated to avoid potentially serious infections. Seek prompt medical care for a fissure or deep crack in the skin, especially if it is accompanied by redness, heat, throbbing, swelling and pain. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you believe your infection, or that of someone you are with, is spreading and you are seeing signs of sepsis (a life-threatening bacterial blood infection), including high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); a change in your level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness; and a change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions.
What other symptoms might occur with cracked skin?
Cracked skin may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that most frequently accompany cracks in the skin are scaling and itchiness, as well as redness and dryness of the surrounding skin.
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What causes cracked skin?
You can get cracked skin from environmental factors such as dry air, particularly during cold winter months. Certain medical disorders can also contribute to dry, cracked skin—especially disorders that cause nerve damage, reduced sweating, or dehydration—as well as other skin conditions.