Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in thick, white, silvery or red patches of skin.
Normally, skin cells grow gradually and flake off about every four weeks. New skin cells grow to replace the outer layers of the skin as they shed. But in psoriasis, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks. They build up and form thick patches called plaques, ranging in size from small to large, most often appearing on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet or lower back. Psoriasis is most common in adults, but children and teens can get it too.
Experts believe that psoriasis occurs when the immune system overreacts, causing inflammation and flaking of skin. In some cases, psoriasis runs in families. Psoriasis isn't contagious.
However, having psoriasis can be distressing and embarrassing, and many people, especially teens, avoid swimming and other situations where patches can show. But there are many types of treatments that can help keep psoriasis under control.
Symptoms of psoriasis
Psoriasis can be mild, with small areas of rash. When psoriasis is moderate or severe, the skin gets inflamed with raised red areas topped with loose, silvery, scaling skin. If psoriasis is severe, the skin becomes itchy and tender. And sometimes large patches form and may be uncomfortable. The patches can join together and cover large areas of skin, such as the entire back.
Psoriasis can also affect the fingernails and toenails, causing the nails to pit, change color and separate from the nail bed. In some people, psoriasis causes joints to become swollen, tender, and painful. This is called psoriatic arthritis.
Symptoms often go into remission, even without treatment, and then return or flare up. Things that can cause these flare-ups include a cold and dry climate, infections, stress, dry skin and taking certain medicines.
Treatments for psoriasis
Most cases of psoriasis are mild, and treatment begins with skincare. This includes keeping your skin moist with creams and lotions. These are often combined with other treatments including shampoos, ultraviolet light and prescription medications.
Skincare at home can help control psoriasis:
- Use creams or lotions, baths or soaks to keep your skin moist.
- Try short exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light.
- Follow instructions for skin products and prescribed medicines.
Things to avoid if you have psoriasis
It's also important to avoid those things that can cause psoriasis symptoms to flare up or make the condition worse. Things to avoid include:
- Skin injury. An injury to the skin can cause psoriasis patches to form anywhere on the body, including the site of the injury.
- Stress and anxiety. Stress can cause psoriasis flare or can worsen symptoms.
- Infection. Infections such as strep throat can cause psoriasis to appear suddenly, especially in children.
- Certain medicines. Some medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs), beta-blockers and lithium, have been found to make psoriasis symptoms worse. Talk with your doctor as you may be able to take a different medicine.
- Overexposure to sunlight. Short periods of sun exposure reduce psoriasis in most people, but too much sun can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer. Sunburns can trigger flares of psoriasis, so it’s very important to always wear a good sunscreen whenever you are outdoors.
- Alcoholor smoking. Both alcohol and smoking use can cause symptoms to flare up.