In many ways, psoriasis is a highly visible disorder—it affects more than 7.5 million Americans and shows up as scaly patches on the skin. But it also stays hidden, in part because it comes and goes, but also because misconceptions around the disorder cause many who have it to try to conceal it—or themselves—during flares.
August is Psoriasis Action Month and a chance to quash harmful misconceptions, support psoriasis research, and raise awareness about this long-term, autoimmune disorder.
What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
Humans constantly build and shed skin cells. For those with psoriasis, that process happens much faster, meaning the older skin cells don’t have time to shed. This overabundance of skin cells causes thickened, scaly patches on the surface of the skin. Usually the patches are inflamed, and their color depends on the person’s skin color but may be red, pink, purple, or dark brown. Grayish or silver scales develop, as well, and sometimes the patches crack and bleed.
Psoriasis patches, often called plaques, may develop anywhere but seem to most often occur on joints, like elbows and knees, and they also develop regularly along the torso and scalp. They typically are itchy and can be painful enough to interfere with sleep. The plaques go through cycles; they may last a few weeks or months before receding, and psoriasis sufferers may go quite some time before having another flare.
The type we’re describing—plaque psoriasis—is the most common and affects at least 80% of psoriasis sufferers, but there are other types that show up a little differently, like guttate psoriasis, which affects children and young adults. Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory joint disorder that affects around 10% of psoriasis sufferers.
What causes psoriasis?
Well, researchers aren’t quite sure. The most likely cause is a misfiring immune system. Your body overreacts to a stimulus, producing new skin cells extremely fast, and those cells build up. Psoriasis is not contagious, and it seems to have a genetic component. If a parent has psoriasis, you’re more likely to have it.
To further complicate matters, what causes flares is different from person to person. Some of the common triggers include
- Cuts, scrapes, bug bites, and other skin injuries
- Infections, which rev up the immune system in general
- Drinking, smoking, and certain medications
- Cold, dry weather
How is psoriasis treated?
Psoriasis can’t be cured, but it can be managed. Finding what works will probably take some trial and error, and it can change as you age and your circumstances change, which is why it’s important to find a thorough, reliable rheumatologist.
Treatment options depend on the severity of your flare and where it’s happening as well as your overall health. You might simply need a topical solution, like a steroid cream or medicated lotion, or you might need treatments like light therapy or medications that slow the skin cell production. Newer medications block your body’s immune response, but some downsides come with suppressing your immune system, and you’ll need to be monitored carefully.If you think you’re dealing with psoriasis—or if you wonder whether there might be a better treatment plan for you—get in touch with Dr. Syed Wakerul Moazzem to schedule an appointment and learn more about your options.