First, it’s important to get the definition of psoriasis straight. It’s not just a minor, temporary rash or breakout that’s causing you grief. It’s a serious and chronic disease. You need to know the symptoms of psoriasis and the causes of psoriasis – and what you can do to find relief.
Symptoms of psoriasis
Here’s a breakdown of common symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Red patches of skin covered with silvery scales
- Small scaling spots (commonly seen in children)
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed
- Itching, burning or soreness
- Thickened, pitted or ridged nails
- Swollen and stiff joints
Psoriasis usually affects skin over the elbows, knees and scalp – basically sites of friction or abrasion or scratching. It can also appear as small, scaly bumps that form into “plaques” of raised skin. These can occur on skin anywhere on the body.
In fact, the disease may also affect the fingernails, toenails, and the soft tissues of the genitals, and inside the mouth as well. Sometimes the skin around affected joints can crack, so some people with psoriasis experience joint inflammation that produces symptoms of arthritis. This is called psoriatic arthritis.
One thing’s for sure when it comes to symptoms of psoriasis, these areas are itchy and uncomfortable, to say the least! If you pull off one of these dry white flakes of skin, it may cause a small blood spot on the skin, which is referred to as a diagnostic sign in psoriasis called the Auspitz sign. But please don’t pick…
Scalp psoriasis, too, is quite common, but often is confused with severed dandruff with its dry flakes and red areas. But treatment is similar for both conditions.
Is psoriasis contagious?
Is psoriasis contagious? People often worry they could spread the condition to family members. But it is not contagious. It can’t be spread by touch from person to person, and the psoriasis lesions are not infectious.
But the physical discomfort can be disabling for many people. The pain and itching can interfere with basic daily tasks, walking, even sleep. Plaques on the hands and feet can be so bad, they may prevent people from working, playing sports, or taking care of domestic business at home.
To complicate matters, people may feel self-conscious about their appearance. This can build up and result in a poor self-image and fear of public rejection and concerns about intimacy. All this psychological distress can lead to depression and social isolation.
With all these symptoms of psoriasis in mind, it’s important to take steps to find relief so this chronic condition won’t limit your life and activities.
Causes of psoriasis
Why does it happen? When it comes to the causes of psoriasis, the condition isn’t fully understood. Research suggests that it may be related to an immune system problem with the cells in your body, so the white blood cells. One cell in particular may be giving you grief – a T lymphocyte or T cell.
These cells travel throughout your body to detect and fight off foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. But when you have psoriasis, the T cells attack healthy skin cells by mistake, as if they were trying to heal a wound or to fight an infection.
These overactive T cells trigger other immune responses which prompt the ongoing cycle in which new skin cells move to the outermost layer of skin too fast, in days rather than weeks. So the dead skin and white blood cells can’t slough off quickly enough, causing the buildup of thick, scaly patches. The cycle usually doesn’t stop unless treatment helps put it on pause.
Environmental factors play a role here. People with psoriasis will notice times when their skin flares up and gets worse, linked to a cold and dry climate, infections, stress (surprise, surprise!), dry skin, and taking certain medicines.
One thing to try to pinpoint is triggers of psoriasis. This way, you may be able to avoid triggers and bad flare-ups. They can vary from person to person, but these factors that may trigger psoriasis include:
- cold weather
- heavy alcohol consumption
- infections, such as strep throat or skin infections
- injury to the skin, like a cut or scrape, bug bite or severe sunburn
- certain medications, including lithium, which is prescribed for bipolar disorder; high blood pressure medications such as beta blockers; antimalarial drugs; and iodides.
Anyone and everyone can develop psoriasis. But there are certain things that can increase your risk. Here’s a rundown of factors to consider, reported by the Mayo Clinic:
- Family history: Call this your most significant risk factor for psoriasis. As with many conditions, having a family history of the disease can signal you’ll have similar problems, too. Having one parent with psoriasis increases your risk of getting the disease, and having two parents with psoriasis increases your risk even more.
- Viral and bacterial infections: People with HIV are more likely to develop psoriasis than people with healthy immune systems are. Seniors, too, may be more prone to developing psoriasis because of an aging immune system. Children and young adults with recurring infections, particularly strep throat, also may be at increased risk.
- Stress: Stress can take a toll on your immune system, so high stress levels may increase your risk of psoriasis.
- Obesity: Excess weight increases the risk of psoriasis. That’s because plaques linked to all types of psoriasis often develop in skin creases and folds.
- Smoking: Tobacco can increases your risk of psoriasis and the severity of the disease. Smoking may also play a role in the initial development of the disease.
Psoriasis skin care
Treatment for psoriasis depends on the type of disease, the severity, and the body area involved.
For mild disease where only small areas are affected, there are topical creams, lotions and sprays.
For moderate to severe disease affecting much larger areas of the body, topical products may not be effective or practical. In these cases, doctors often prescribe ultraviolet or other light treatments, or internal medications. Because topical therapy has no effect on psoriatic arthritis, these medications may be necessary to avoid joint deterioration.
Lifestyle measures may bring relief as well, improving the appearance and feel of damaged skin. Suggestions include:
- Take daily baths: You can relax and des-stress, for one, and this will also help to remove scales and calm inflamed skin. Adding in Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts can help with this, too. Tip: Avoid hot water and harsh soaps. Your body needs gentle bathing to be effective.
- Moisturize! Take that extra time to apply a heavy ointment-based moisturizer or oil after bathing, while your skin is still moist. In the dry, colder months, apply moisturizer more than once a day.
- Sunlight therapy: Exposing your skin to a little sunlight can improve psoriasis. Just don’t go overboard, because too much can worsen outbreaks. On the same note, protect your skin with sunscreen.
Knowing the symptoms of psoriasis and understanding some of the triggers linked to causes of psoriasis can help you manage your condition. Know, too, that there’s hope for better management strategies and treatments. As the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports, since discovering that inflammation in psoriasis is triggered by T cells, researchers have been studying new treatments that quiet immune system reactions in the skin.
If they find a way to target only the disease-causing immune reactions while leaving the rest of the immune system alone, resulting treatments could have a huge benefit for people with psoriasis.
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