You may have heard of the term psoriasis. This is usually brought up if you have itchy skin, rashes, or other skin complaints. People wonder whether you have a skin condition and psoriasis is becoming one of the most frequently diagnosed ones other than eczema.
If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with psoriasis, you’ll want to take steps to help control the condition. It doesn’t have to rule your life and you don’t need to have the visible symptoms all the time.
You may not even know if you have it and just suspect based on the tales of someone else. You’ll want to know symptoms of the condition to make sure it’s not a big issue. Here’s a look at absolutely everything you need to know about psoriasis, including the symptoms, treatments, and tips to manage it.
What Exactly Is Psoriasis?
The name is given to a chronic autoimmune condition. The condition causes skin cells to build up rapidly, which can lead to visible scaling of the skin. Redness and inflammation are extremely common, along with dry skin and irritation. Sometimes the patches of scales can bleed as they crack.
A growth of skin cells is common and a natural part of life. However, in healthy people, the skin cells will drop off (or can be exfoliated off) allowing space for new ones to grow and appear. Those skin cells will eventually die and drop off and it’s a regular cycle. In someone with psoriasis, that isn’t what happens. The dead skin cells stick around, and the growths get worse as new skin cells appear.
Most of the time the skin cells will scale up around the elbows, knees, and other joints. However, they can appear anywhere on the body. The genitals, mouth, and nails are the least affected areas but sometimes they can be problematic.
Psoriasis is an extremely common condition. Around 7.5 million people in the United States alone suffer from a type of psoriasis. Often, the condition relates to another health issue and is linked to the compromised immune system.
There are different types of psoriasis to consider. The most common is plaque psoriasis, which affects around 80% of those diagnosed. It’s the one most commonly visible in the patches explained above.
In children, guttate psoriasis may form. This causes pink spots to appear on the skin, usually around the legs, arms, and torso. Most of the spots will sit on the same level of the skin, so don’t appear as scaly or raised.
Pustular psoriasis is something that can occur mostly in adulthood. The skin becomes red and inflamed and sometimes little pus-filled blisters will appear. This is usually on the hands and feet, but other parts of the body can be affected. Most of the time, you’ll see the pus blisters appear in localized areas frequently, rather than spread to various areas of the body.
If the condition appears around the breasts, under the armpits, or around the groin there is a chance that you have what’s known as inverse psoriasis. The skin becomes inflamed and red, with a shiny texture to it.
Finally, erythrodermic psoriasis may occur. This is the rarest type of the condition and gives the skin an appearance of being sunburned. You can often find the scales drop off into your sheets and a fever or other illness is extremely common when suffering from it. Large sections of the body are affected at the same time, making it problematic and extremely irritating.
While the scaly skin can look unsightly, there is the good news that this isn’t contagious. If your friends or family look horrified and worry, just let them know that coming into contact with you isn’t going to affect them at all. It’s not a viral or bacterial infection, but an immune condition.
The Symptoms of Psoriasis
The symptoms don’t take a one size fits all approach. However, there are certain symptoms that are more common than others.
Most of the time, a person will see some reddish skin that’s inflamed. This is usually in patches on the body, depending on the type of psoriasis. There may be silvery white patches of skin within the red, usually with the appearance of scales in the skin. Sometimes these patches will start to crack, and bleeding is common.
The skin is often extremely dry. Therefore, the patches start to crack. We’ll get into how you can prevent this soon. Because of the dryness, though, it is possible to have soreness in the area.
Some people will also experience itchiness, irritation, or a burning sensation. Since it’s around the joint area in most cases, the joints can also become affected.
However, not everyone will get symptoms of the condition. Because it’s an autoimmune condition, it can sometimes go into remission. People get cycles of the symptoms now and then. Depending on various factors, those relapses may be minor, but they can also be severe where they continue for a few weeks and then just disappear as if nothing happened!
What Causes Psoriasis?
As with any condition, one of the big questions is the reason for the condition to occur. Why do we get it and why is this something that’s becoming increasingly common in both children and adults?
Because it’s an autoimmune condition, the immune system certainly plays a part. Autoimmune conditions are when the body starts attacking itself, believing something within itself is an infection. The T-cells start to attack the skin cells, believing them to be dangerous. This then causes the skin cell’s production to increase to survive the attack. Of course, the other skin cells aren’t damaged, or they don’t drop off, leading to more new cells that are necessary and the patches to appear. All the cells are pushed up from the skin, turning into piles of scales.
Research also shows that genetics can play a part. Those with family members who already have a skin condition are more likely to develop psoriasis. However, a genetic predisposition isn’t needed. Only 2-3% of people with the condition have a genetic predisposition!
As mentioned, this is a condition that goes in cycles. It’s possible to go weeks or months without a flare-up. Then suddenly the body starts to attack the white cells again. The flare-ups occur usually because of triggers.
Stress is one of the most common triggers for all autoimmune conditions. When we’re stressed, our bodies start to release adrenaline and other hormones that can cause the immune system to react. The body goes into a “fight or flight” mode, including the immune system. It starts attacking the threats to help handle a situation. This leads to the flare-up within the skin cells.
Alcohol is another potential trigger, especially overconsumption of alcohol. Those who drink heavily or binge drink at weekends are more likely to see recurring cycles of symptoms. Smoking is another considered trigger.
However, sometimes there’s little you can do. Medications are known for causing psoriasis symptoms because of the way they affect the immune system. This is especially the case for those on high blood pressure medication, lithium, and antimalarial medication.
Infections and injuries can also lead to the condition. Getting sunburn, cutting, or scraping the skin, or even getting vaccines can lead to an outbreak. In all cases, the immune system must go into action and that leads to attacking the skin cells, even if they’re not suffering a problem.
How Doctors Will Diagnose Your Condition
You’ll need to see a doctor for an official diagnosis of the condition. There are two ways doctors will know whether you have psoriasis or another skin condition.
The most common is through a physical exam. Due to the nature of most scaly patches, the doctor will be able to diagnose through looking at your flare-up. Your doctor will need to see all the areas affected, as this will help diagnose the exact type of psoriasis that you have.
Another option is through a biopsy. This is done by taking a small sample of the skin cells to check under a microscope. It’s possible to rule out other infections or skin conditions and will also help to diagnose the exact type of psoriasis that you have. Taking the skin graft isn’t painful as you will usually have a numbing agent over the localized area of the skin.
After the biopsy, your doctor will usually get you to book another appointment. This is the best way to discuss the results and your treatment options.
Is Psoriasis Treatable?
While psoriasis doesn’t have a cure, there are treatments to help handle the symptoms. These treatments can also help to manage the relapses of the symptoms.
When you suffer from physical symptoms, you may be prescribed some topical ointments and treatment. Corticosteroid and retinoid creams are among the most common options prescribed. However, some doctors will choose to go a slightly more natural route and prescribe salicylic acid. This is known for helping to treat acne, but it can be drying in the skin, so the type of psoriasis will usually determine if the treatment is useful.
If your condition is severe or the other treatments haven’t worked, doctors will then usually consider oral or injected medicines to help manage the symptoms. Doctors don’t like to use them for prolonged periods of time, as they can have severe side effects. Oral and injected retinoid products are common, but you can also get cyclosporine, methotrexate, or biologics.
Since the sunlight can kill overactive T-cells, you may be prescribed psoriasis treatment. This uses the UV rays that are found in the sun to help prevent the T-cells attacking your skin cells. The light treatment will use both UVA and UVB in short bursts to avoid damage to your skin cells.
It is possible to use light therapy with other treatments. You may be advised to use topical treatments after the light therapy to help heal the skin afterward.
Natural Treatments for Your Skin Condition
There are plenty of people looking for natural treatments. You’ll still not get a cure, but you can help to manage the symptoms.
One of the biggest issues is the dry skin, which can lead to the patches of skin cells cracking and bleeding. You may also want to manage the irritation and inflammation of the skin. Using a moisturizing cream daily can help to prevent the more severe symptoms. You will want to find a moisturizing cream that doesn’t have chemicals or preservatives.
Consider making your own moisturizing creams using olive or coconut oil. They can help to soak into the layers of the skin, moisturizing deep down. These oils also help vitamin E and other healing agents, which can help to prevent the attack on your skin cells. You can continue to use the moisturizing treatments for flare-ups to keep your skin soft and silky smooth.
It’s also possible to manage the condition through the diet. One of the things to consider is cutting out any foods and drinks that are more likely to lead to the flare-ups. Cut out foods that are known for causing inflammation in the body. Anything that can set off the immune system should be reduced to a minimum, including processed and refined sugary foods, dairy products, wheat, and red meat.
Add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. They contain antioxidants, which can help to protect the skin cells and reduce the immune system’s response. The omega-3s will also help to reduce the inflammation in the body. Opt for more salmon, tuna, and mackerel in your diet.
Reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink. If you do have a problem with drinking, talk to your doctor or find a group therapy to help. Excessive consumption isn’t just bad for your skin; it will affect your overall diet.
It can be worth taking vitamin supplements. Try to get as many naturally through your diet but getting supplements can help to improve your immune system’s response and health. Talk to your doctor about any deficiencies you may have. Remember that a change in your diet to add more healthy foods to your meals will help to boost your vitamin intake.
You Can Live with Psoriasis
There’s no need to let the skin condition rule your life. While there are going to be times that the skin condition is uncomfortable, there are plenty of weeks and months where you can have zero symptoms. It’s important to talk to your doctor, understand more about your triggers, and find ways to soothe the symptoms when you do suffer a relapse.