Affecting approximately 3% of the U.S. adult population, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease and a chronic condition. Psoriasis affects the speed in which skin cells turnover, for example, typical skin cell turnover is about one month. However, in patients with this condition, the skin cell turnover process takes only a few days.
This quick skin cell turnover causes the formation of scaly, dry and itchy skin patches. The inflammation accompanying this process causes cracking and bleeding. Unfortunately, psoriasis is a very uncomfortable condition.
Types of Psoriasis
There are five different types of Psoriasis
- Plaque – The most common type of Psoriasis and found in 80%-90% of the cases. Inflamed lesions are found on joints and the scalp.
- Guttate – Commonly found in childhood. Lesions are found on the torso, arms and legs, and are usually pink or violet spots. Spots are rarely raised as in plaque psoriasis.
- Pustular – Pus-filled blisters and broad areas of red or violet inflamed skin are earmarks of this type of psoriasis. Mainly found in adults, lesions are localized to smaller areas like hands and feet.
- Inverse – Forms under armpits, groin and genitals.
- Erythrodermic – Very rare and severe covers a large section of the body at once and may be accompanied by a fever. See a doctor immediately.
Common Symptoms of Psoriasis
- Raised inflamed patches of skin.
- Dry skin that cracks and bleeds.
- soreness around patches.
- itching and burning around patches.
- thick, pitted nails.
- painful and swollen joints.
Psoriasis patients may encounter cycles of flares and clear skin. Accordingly, you may be symptom free, however, your psoriasis may return.
Causes of Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks skin cells. Genetics plays a role in psoriasis. You are at higher risk is higher if a family member has it.
Diagnosis occurs through a physical exam and occasionally a biopsy is necessary.
What Triggers a Flare of Psoriasis
Psoriasis flares are extremely individualized, however some outside triggers typically cause flare ups:
- Stress is a major trigger for flares. Meditation, exercise, deep breathing exercises are ways to alleviate stress.
- Injury to the skin can precipitate a flare.
- Medications including lithium, antimalarial medication and high blood pressure medications.
- Foods particularly nightshades, gluten, dairy, shellfish, pork, red meat and highly processed foods.
- Weather conditions.
Keeping skin itchiness at bay is an important factor in feeling better and preventing flares. Some ideas to help combat itchiness include keeping your skin moisturized. This can be accomplished by using:
- gentle soap when bathing.
- a humidifier at home.
- fragrance free moisturizer on skin.
Staying cool by taking warm not hot showers, wearing light clothing and applying ice packs to itchy lesions. Don’t scratch or scrub your skin. Being gentle with yourself is the goal.
Soaking in an warm bath for 15 minutes can help, test out adding:
- sea salt
- coal tar
Some experimentation is required to see if these additions help you. No one treatment will be right for everyone. Soaking in a warm tub can help to loosen scales and reduce inflammation. Remember to dry skin by blotting with a towel, not rubbing.
Paradoxically sun bathing (within reason) may help to diminish lesions. First, cover unaffected skin with clothing and sunscreen, then expose patches to sun for up to 15 minutes. Do not stay in the sun for long as sunburn will make your condition worse! Absolutely do not use tanning beds!
Sometimes dietary and lifestyle adjustments help reduce triggers and flares. Although no “psoriasis diet” exists, the following tips may help:
- Eat more vegetables.
- Cut out processed foods.
- Eliminate sugar.
- Reduce saturated fats in the diet.
- eat lean protein and Omega-3 fatty acids
- increase plant based sources of Omega-3’s like flax, soy and walnuts.
- Avoid dairy products
- Avoid alcohol.
The aim of treatment is to reduce inflammation, slow skin cell growth and remove plaques. Treatment may include topical treatments, systemic medications, supplements, lifestyle changes, light therapy, acupuncture, and other holistic/integrative methods.