Psoriasis (pronounced “suh-rahy-uh-sis”) is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects more than 7.5 million people in the U.S. It typically develops in patients between 15 and 35 years old according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of the disease, which presents on the skin as thick patches of scaly, dead skin. When scratched or rubbed, the dead skin will flake off, revealing the live skin beneath, which is often red and inflamed. These scaly patches of skin occur in people with plaque psoriasis due to the skin cells growing and dividing quicker than normal skin. As a result, the skin cells build up rapidly to form the thick and scaly “psoriatic” skin patches. Psoriatic lesions (as they are called) not only look disconcerting, but they are actually quite uncomfortable as well, due to the dry and itchy nature of the lesion.
While the most common manifestation of psoriasis is on the skin, the inflammation may target other systems of the body, namely, the joints. This condition is called psoriatic arthritis, which is a form of arthritis that causes pain, inflammation and swelling of the joints. Psoriatic arthritis develops in about 30% of patients with psoriasis.
Although psoriatic lesions may look contagious, it is important to note that psoriasis cannot be spread from person to person, so don’t be afraid to be around someone who has it! Even if a close relative has psoriasis and you begin showing signs of the disease, it’s not because you “caught” psoriasis from them. It is because you share some of the same genes with them. Certain genes have been linked to psoriasis, so having relatives with psoriasis does increase the risk that you’ll have it. However, the bottom line is that it’s not contagious. It is an autoimmune condition, not infection.
What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
Psoriasis usually causes patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales that itch or feel sore. It is an unpredictable disease that can develop on any part of the body. The most common areas people develop psoriatic plaques are the scalp, knees, elbows, hands, and feet. Rarely, psoriatic lesions may develop on the face. When the disease does occur on the face, it typically develops along the hairline, eyebrows and the skin between the nose and upper lip. Psoriatic lesions may also appear up on the fingernails, toenails, genitals or inside the mouth.
Over time, psoriatic lesions will go through cycles in which they improve for a while only to then flare up again. The most common trigger for a psoriatic flare up is stress. So people with psoriasis may notice their symptoms worsening during stressful times.
Another trigger that can cause psoriasis to flare up is cold weather, which dries the skin and triggers inflammation. Therefore, people with psoriasis may choose to spend more time indoors during the winter months to escape the cold and its effect on their psoriasis. While avoiding the cold by staying indoors can help improve symptoms, people with psoriasis should not avoid sun exposure entirely. Sunlight provides an ample amount of ultraviolet light and natural vitamin D, both of which have proven to prevent and alleviate psoriatic flare ups. The current recommendation is that sun exposure in patients with psoriasis be limited to 10 minutes per session.
How is psoriasis treated?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for psoriasis. However, there are a multitude of treatment options aimed at alleviating symptoms and preventing flare ups. The following treatment options can be used alone or in combination with one another:
- Topical steroid creams aimed at minimizing the inflammatory process of psoriasis
- Ultraviolet light therapy, which would include either getting more sunlight or having a special ultraviolet light shine on the affected areas of the skin. NOTE: It’s important that this is done in a medical setting in order to control the amount of light you are getting from this therapy, because too much ultraviolet light can make your psoriasis worse.
- Systemic treatment, which includes either taking prescription medication or getting routine shots of medicine.
Keeping your skin well moisturized and maintaining your overall health is the cornerstone of managing your psoriasis. The bottom line is that psoriasis is a treatable condition. While there will be times that the skin condition is uncomfortable, it is important to understand that with adequate treatment, there is the potential for weeks and months where you will have zero or only mild symptoms. For more information, please visit: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/psoriasis