Netherton syndrome is a disorder that affects the skin, hair, and immune system. Newborns with Netherton syndrome have skin that is red and scaly (ichthyosiform erythroderma), and the skin may leak fluid. Some affected infants are born with a tight, clear sheath covering their skin called a collodion membrane. This membrane is usually shed during the first few weeks of life. Because newborns with this disorder are missing the protection provided by normal skin, they are at risk of becoming dehydrated and developing infections in the skin or throughout the body (sepsis), which can be life-threatening. Affected babies may also fail to grow and gain weight at the expected rate (failure to thrive). The health of older children and adults with Netherton syndrome usually improves, although they often remain underweight and of short stature.
After infancy, the severity of the skin abnormalities varies among people with Netherton syndrome and can fluctuate over time. The skin may continue to be red and scaly, especially during the first few years of life. Some affected individuals have intermittent redness or experience outbreaks of a distinctive skin abnormality called ichthyosis linearis circumflexa, involving patches of multiple ring-like lesions. The triggers for the outbreaks are not known, but researchers suggest that stress or infections may be involved.
Itchiness is a common problem for affected individuals, and scratching can lead to frequent infections. Dead skin cells are shed at an abnormal rate and often accumulate in the ear canals, which can affect hearing if not removed regularly. The skin is abnormally absorbent of substances such as lotions and ointments, which can result in excessive blood levels of some topical medications. Because the ability of the skin to protect against heat and cold is impaired, affected individuals may have difficulty regulating their body temperature.
People with Netherton syndrome have hair that is fragile and breaks easily. Some strands of hair vary in diameter, with thicker and thinner spots. This feature is known as bamboo hair, trichorrhexis nodosa, or trichorrhexis invaginata. In addition to the hair on the scalp, the eyelashes and eyebrows may be affected. The hair abnormality in Netherton syndrome may not be noticed in infancy because babies often have sparse hair.
Most people with Netherton syndrome have immune system-related problems such as food allergies, hay fever, asthma, or an inflammatory skin disorder called eczema.