About Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a fairly common skin disease. It causes cells to build up quickly on the surface of the skin, forming thick silvery scales and itchy, dry, red patches that are sometimes painful. It is a persistent, chronic disease, and although it can go into remission, there is no cure. For most people it is no more than a nuisance, but for some it can become disabling and painful.

The cause of psoriasis isn’t fully known, but it’s thought to be related to the immune system and triggered by environmental factors in people who have the genetic susceptibility.

If you think you might have psoriasis, consult with your doctor. Psoriasis symptoms can vary but include:

  • Red patches of skin covered with silvery scales
  • Patches can range from a few spots of dandruff-like scaling to covering large areas of skin especially on the legs.
  • Small scaling spots
  • Dry, cracked skin that may bleed
  • Itching, burning or soreness
  • Thickened, pitted or ridged nails
  • Swollen and stiff joints

Most types of psoriasis go through cycles, flaring for a few weeks or months, then subsiding for a time or even going into complete remission. In most cases, however, the disease eventually returns.

Psoriasis triggers:

  • Infections, such as strep throat or thrush
  • Injury to the skin, such as a cut or scrape, bug bite, or a severe sunburn
  • Stress
  • Cold weather
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Certain medications — including lithium, which is prescribed for bipolar disorder; high blood pressure medications such as beta blockers; antimalarial drugs; and iodides

Psoriasis types:

  • Plaque psoriasis. The most common form of psoriasis causes dry, raised, red skin lesions (plaques) covered with silvery scales. The plaques itch or may be painful and can occur anywhere on your body, including your genitals and the soft tissue inside your mouth. You may have just a few plaques or many, and in severe cases, the skin around your joints may crack and bleed.
  • Nail psoriasis. Psoriasis can affect fingernails and toenails, causing pitting, abnormal nail growth and discoloration. Psoriatic nails may become loose and separate from the nail bed (onycholysis). Severe cases may cause the nail to crumble.
  • Scalp psoriasis. Psoriasis on the scalp appears as red, itchy areas with silvery-white scales. You may notice flakes of dead skin in your hair or on your shoulders, especially after scratching your scalp.
  • Guttate psoriasis. This primarily affects people younger than 30 and is usually triggered by a bacterial infection such as strep throat. It’s marked by small, water-drop-shaped sores on your trunk, arms, legs and scalp. The sores are covered by a fine scale and aren’t as thick as typical plaques are. You may have a single outbreak that goes away on its own, or you may have repeated episodes, especially if you have ongoing respiratory infections.
  • Inverse psoriasis. Mainly affecting the skin in the armpits, in the groin, under the breasts and around the genitals, inverse psoriasis causes smooth patches of red, inflamed skin. It’s more common in overweight people and is worsened by friction and sweating.
  • Pustular psoriasis. This uncommon form of psoriasis can occur in widespread patches (generalized pustular psoriasis) or in smaller areas on your hands, feet or fingertips. It generally develops quickly, with pus-filled blisters appearing just hours after your skin becomes red and tender. The blisters dry within a day or two, but may reappear every few days or weeks. Generalized pustular psoriasis can also cause fever, chills, severe itching and fatigue.
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis. The least common type of psoriasis, erythrodermic psoriasis can cover your entire body with a red, peeling rash that can itch or burn intensely. It may be triggered by severe sunburn, by corticosteroids and other medications, or by another type of psoriasis that’s poorly controlled.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. In addition to inflamed, scaly skin, psoriatic arthritis causes pitted, discolored nails and the swollen, painful joints that are typical of arthritis. It can also lead to inflammatory eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and psoriatic arthritis can affect any joint. Although the disease usually isn’t as crippling as other forms of arthritis, it can cause stiffness and progressive joint damage that in the most serious cases may lead to permanent deformity.

Psoriasis treatments:

Medical treatments strive to interrupt the cycle that causes an increased production of skin cells, thereby reducing inflammation and plaque formation, as well as to remove scales and smooth the skin. There are three types of treatments: light therapy, topical treatments and systemic medications.Consult your doctor on the best regimen for you.

Although self-help measures won’t cure psoriasis, they may help improve the appearance and feel of damaged skin, and help prevent recurrences. Check our blogs and forums for latest information on alternative therapies and treatments.

  • Take daily baths. They help remove scales and calm inflamed skin. Add bath oil, colloidal oatmeal, Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts to the water and soak for at least 15 minutes. Avoid hot water and harsh soaps, which can worsen symptoms.
  • Use moisturizer. Blot dry your skin after bathing, then immediately apply a heavy moisturizer while your skin is still damp. For very dry skin, oils may be preferable — they have more staying power than creams or lotions do and are more effective at preventing water from evaporating from your skin. During cold, dry weather, you may need to apply a moisturizer several times a day.
  • Cover the affected areas overnight. To help improve redness and scaling, apply ointment your skin and wrap with plastic wrap overnight. In the morning, remove the covering and wash away the scales with a bath or a shower.
  • Expose your skin to small amounts of sunlight. A controlled amount of sunlight can significantly improve lesions, but too much sun can trigger or worsen outbreaks and increase the risk of skin cancer.
  • Apply medicated cream or ointment. Apply an over-the-counter cream or ointment containing hydrocortisone or salicylic acid to reduce itching and scaling. If you have scalp psoriasis, try a medicated shampoo that contains coal tar. For best results, follow label directions.
  • Avoid triggers (see list above). Research shows some foods can also act as triggers, most commonly milk and wheat. You can try the Food Sensitivity Diet to identify foods that might act as triggers for you.