The staff at Dermatology & Skin Cancer Surgery Center have worked with countless patients to help get their psoriasis symptoms under control. Psoriasis is described as a chronic skin problem that results from skin cells that grow too rapidly which results in thick, white, red or silvery patches of skin. This causes the skin to itch and/or burn, or scale and crust. While normal skin cells grow and flake off about every 4 weeks, those with psoriasis suffer from skin cells that rapidly move to the skin’s surface within days. This results in a build-up of thick patches also known as plaques. These plaques can range in size and usually appear on knees, elbows, hands, feet, lower back, and the scalp.
Types of Psoriasis
There are several different forms of psoriasis, including plaque psoriasis or psoriasis vulgaris, pustular psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis and erythrodermic or exfoliative psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis is the most common. While most cases of psoriasis are considered mild, some are difficult to treat and can require multiple treatments throughout a patient’s life. It is also important to note that psoriasis is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. Once it is diagnosed, it is a matter of managing the symptoms so that flare-ups can be minimized.
Symptoms of Psoriasis
The most common symptoms associated with psoriasis include raised, bright red patches of skin that are covered with loose and silvery scales. Plaques can also appear in the same area on both sides of the body, such as on both knees and/or both elbows. The scalp can experience anything from mild scaling to areas of thick, crusted plaques. Itching is common before flare-ups especially when psoriatic patches appear in body folds such as under the buttocks or breasts. Tiny areas of skin bleeding, known as Auspitz’s sign, can occur when scales are picked or scraped off. In addition, nails can appear pitted, discolored, or even crumble and fall off. Some common symptoms associated with the varying types of psoriasis include:
- Guttate psoriasis: Common symptoms include small, red spots that can appear all over the skin and often appear after an illness.
- Pustular psoriasis: Common symptoms include red, swollen skin with pus-filled bumps that can cover the palms and soles and can be painful.
- Inverse psoriasis: Common symptoms include smooth, red patches of skin that appear raw-looking. Patches develop only where skin comes into contact with other skin such as the armpits or genitals.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis: Common symptoms include areas of skin that look burned and most, if not all, of the body turns bright red and the body cannot maintain a normal temperature. A person must seek medical care immediately since this condition can be life threatening.
What causes Psoriasis?
The exact cause of psoriasis has not been pinpointed by doctors. The overall thinking is that the immune system overreacts which causes inflammation as well as flaking of the skin. It is also believed that psoriasis can be inherited. Approximately 1/3 of people who have psoriasis have one or more family members with the condition. Scientists believe that certain genes interact which leads to psoriasis. However, a patient must inherit the right combination of genes as well as be exposed to a trigger. Symptoms can appear after triggers such as a stressful event, taking certain medications, strep throat, cold, dry weather or a scratch, cut or bad sunburn.
Treatment of Psoriasis
While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are a variety of treatments available to treat the condition depending on the severity and type of psoriasis a patient has. Mild cases can be treated with prescription lotions, creams and ointments that help to moisturize the skin. When the scalp is affected, shampoos, sprays and oils can be used. Oral medications can also be prescribed, and cortisone shots can be administered to slow down the growth of cells and reduce inflammation. Advancements in laser therapy have made huge improvements for many patients. Using phototherapy to expose a patient’s skin to special, ultraviolet light helps reduce symptoms, as well as helps the skin to look normal.