Psoriasis is a common, chronic skin condition. The result of a rapid buildup of skin cells, psoriasis causes red, raised, dry and cracked scaly patches, and even blisters, to form on the skin. In some cases, psoriasis affects the fingernails, causing yellowing and small depressions. Psoriasis can be mild, moderate or severe, and, in most cases, causes itching and burning in affected areas or skin.
Psoriasis is the result of an autoimmune disorder, in which skin cells replace themselves every 3 to 4 days, rather than the usual 30, creating a buildup of cells on the skin‘s surface, and causing symptoms to appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, hands, feet and genitals. Although there is no cure, there are several treatments available to effectively relieve symptoms. In the United States, more than seven million men, women and children have psoriasis.
Causes of Psoriasis
Psoriasis is caused by an immune-system disorder involving a type of white blood cell called a “T lymphocyte” (T cell). Although T cells usually travel through the body to fight off viruses and other foreign substances, in patients with psoriasis, they attack healthy skin cells. This causes an increased production of healthy skin cells, which then build up on the surface of the skin, causing scaling and patches. The symptoms of psoriasis can worsen as a result of certain triggers, including the following:
- Injury to the skin
- Alcohol consumption
Certain medications are also triggers for psoriasis.
Symptoms of Psoriasis
Symptoms of psoriasis vary depending on each patient, but often include the following:
- Red patches of skin covered with silvery scales
- Dry, cracked skin
- Itching or burning
- Thickened nails
For many people who have it, psoriasis is merely a cosmetic issue. In some cases, however, it causes severe pain, especially when associated with arthritis. The symptoms of psoriasis usually come and go; it is a cyclic disorder, with remissions and flareups occurring throughout a patient‘s life.
Types of Psoriasis
There are seven different types of psoriasis, each causing different symptoms. Some types are more common than others. Although patients usually have only one type of psoriasis at any given time, another type can appear once the first has cleared.
Plaque psoriasis is the most common type; it affects about 80 percent of psoriasis patients. It causes raised red lesions that are covered with silvery white scales, and usually appears on the elbows, knees, scalp and back.
Guttate psoriasis usually begins during childhood or early adulthood. It causes small red spots to appear on the skin of the torso, arms and legs, and is associated with bacterial infections such as strep throat.
Inverse psoriasis develops in the armpits or groin, under the breasts, or in other folds of skin. It manifests itself as bright-red lesions that can become irritated from sweat and friction. It is most common in overweight patients.
Pustular psoriasis causes white, pus-filled blisters that are surrounded by red areas of skin. It is often triggered by medication, ultraviolet light, pregnancy or infection, and is most common in adults.
Erythrodermic psoriasis is the least common type of psoriasis. It often causes redness and scaling on the whole body, and can lead to serious illness if left untreated.
Nail psoriasis affects the nails, causing them to thicken and yellow, and develop small pits in the nail bed. Patients with nail psoriasis are likely to also have a fungal infection.
Psoriatic arthritis is a combination of psoriasis and arthritis. It can cause swelling, pain and discoloration of the joints, in addition to the skin-related symptoms of psoriasis.
Treatment of Psoriasis
Treatment for psoriasis focuses on clearing the skin of current symptoms. Treatments for the root cause of psoriasis are intended to interrupt the abnormal cycle that has caused an increased production of skin cells. This can be achieved through topical treatment, oral medication, light therapies or a combination of the three.
Topical treatment for psoriasis usually includes the use of of corticosteroids, vitamin D or topical retinoids. These topical medications target inflammation, skin-cell growth and DNA activity to effectively treat the symptoms of mild-to-moderate psoriasis.
Light therapy may be used in combination with topical treatments to slow the production of skin cells, and improve the overall appearance of the skin. Light therapy includes exposure to natural sunlight or narrowband ultraviolet-B light.
Oral medications may be prescribed for severe cases of psoriasis, or those that are unresponsive to other types of treatment. Prescription oral medications include retinoids, methotrexate or cyclosporine.
Patients with psoriasis can help relieve symptoms by keeping the skin clean and moisturized, covering the affected areas while sleeping, and avoiding catalysts such as stress, smoking and alcohol. By adhering to a doctor‘s treatment plan and following the recommended home remedies, effective relief from psoriasis is possible.
How Do I Manage a Psoriasis Flare?
A flare up of psoriasis can occur when you least expect them to. Not to mention, their frequency depends on the person and how severe their case is. Regardless, there are ways to manage a potential flare up. The first way to manage it is to practice good skin care management. A proper skin care does vary depending on the person, but in the case of psoriasis, it typically involves keeping the skin moist.
Without having moisture in the skin, it can exacerbate symptoms such as itchiness and irritation. After showering, do not rub yourself dry; instead, gently pat yourself dry to avoid further inflammation. Then, apply either a lotion or ointment, like petroleum jelly, to trap the moisture within the skin.
It is also in your best interest to keep the affected areas out of direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure can also worsen your symptoms and even be the cause of a flare up.
What Are the Most Common Psoriasis Triggers?
Scientists are not exactly sure what causes psoriasis, but what is currently known is that genetics and the immune system play a pivotal role. In fact, it is possible for people with no genetic history to develop psoriasis. That being said, there are a variety of triggers that cause psoriasis, which includes the following:
- Having an injury to the skin
- Illnesses, like bronchitis, tonsillitis and an ear infection
- The weather
Although rare, allergies to food, alcohol or certain medications may trigger psoriasis as well.
What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make?
A person’s lifestyle can have a profound effect on how psoriasis progresses. If you partake in harmful habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol, you will be advised to stop. This is because they can make your case significantly worse. This also rings true if you eat a poor diet, do not get enough rest at night, and are not very physically active.
However, you can offset the effects of psoriasis by getting more exercise, eating a well-balanced and nutritional diet, and getting at least eight hours of sleep. As for the diet, it is best to consult your doctor and a nutritionist first if you have any allergies. They can help tailor the perfect diet for you to keep your psoriasis in check.
How Can I Manage My Psoriasis Symptoms?
There are many ways you can manage the symptoms of psoriasis. You can apply ointments, creams, and petroleum jelly to keep the skin moist. In some cases, you may be prescribed medication such as anti-inflammatories, steroids and a vitamin A derivative. Managing your stress levels and acquiring UV light therapy are also ways you can keep the symptoms from worsening.