A Look at What Psoriasis Is and How to Treat It

psoriasis     Psoriasis sufferers have dry, thick, red, and irritated skin that can often be flaky and itchy. It can be severely problematic for patients, even getting in the way of their daily activities. Fortunately, for those with proper treatment, it’s a manageable condition that, for some, can go into remission.    

What is Psoriasis?


psoriasis back

Psoriasis can manifest at any age, but typically shows up between 11 and 45.

Pronounced like “sore-ey-ah-sis,” Psoriasis is a condition that causes red, itchy patches on the body that may appear scaly (MedlinePlus). It isn’t contagious and is generally an inherited condition than pops up between the ages of 11 and 45, and often happens between 15 and 35 (A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia). Unfortunately, it’s a chronic condition, meaning there’s not “cure;” though, like many diseases there are steps one can take and treatments for managing the condition.     Psoriasis typically affects the knees and elbows, though it can show up nearly anywhere, including scalp, hands, and genitals. Psoriatic arthritis can lead to inflammation of the joints (Mayo Clinic).     A 1974 survey that appeared in Dermatologica gives some fast facts on psoriasis trends. The mean age for symptom onset was 27.8 years old, and 36% of those surveyed said there was a family history of the skin disorder. Most of the time, psoriasis manifested in the lower limbs, but the next common place was the scalp. Most of the patients saw improvement in hot weather and sunlight, and one-third of the women saw their condition improve during pregnancy.     Other surveys have shown that many patients feel psoriasis can have a profound effect on their well being, affecting not only their body, but also their emotions and ability to socialize (JAMA Dermatology).    

What Causes Psoriasis?


t cells

Psoriasis is caused when T cells function abnormally.

Recent research suggests that Psoriasis is actually an immune disorder that has to do with the white blood cells, which typically protect the body from infection. There are two kinds of blood cells that seek out and destroy foreign cells: T cells and B cells. While B cells send out antibodies to attack these materials, T cells do the attacking themselves (MedlinePlus Tutorial). In Psoriasis, the T cells function abnormally.     This causes several effects in the body, one of which is to produce both white blood cells and healthy skin cells at a rapid rate (American Academy of Family Physicians, Mayo Clinic). This causes skin cells that would ordinarily rise to the surface in months to rise to the surface in a matter of a few days. The dead skin cannot be sloughed off fast enough, causing thick, reddened, and itchy skin.     Psoriasis can be triggered by viral or bacterial infections, injury, medication, too much or too little sunlight, alcohol consumption, cold weather, and stress. Weight gain has also been shown to increase psoriasis in two studies that followed patients over a several year period (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Journal Watch Dermatology).    

How Is Psoriasis Treated?

    The first step to maintaining healthy skin with psoriasis is keeping skin moisturized. This will help some of the adverse side effects of drying and cracking that can come along with the disorder. As for treatment, the type depends on the type of psoriasis and the severity.     It’s important to discuss psoriasis treatment with your doctor, who can assess your condition and help you to find the best solution for treating your psoriasis. With proper treatment, some people even see their psoriasis go into remission.     There are three main types of treatments: topical treatments, oral treatments, and phototherapy.    

Topical Treatments for Psoriasis

    These are topical creams and gels that are most effective in treating mild to moderate psoriasis. Depending on the severity of psoriasis, these might also be combined with an oral treatment. Dermarest     These use ingredients such as cortisone, which is one of the most common ingredients for treating psoriasis. It’s found in products like Exederm Flare Control ($9.34, amazon.com), which contains 1% cortisone. exederm     Salicylic acid is another commonly used treatment that works because it helps to slough away the dead skin cells. For this, think something like Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Skin Treatment ($6, amazon.com), which contains 3% salicylic acid.     Sometimes coal tar, a bi-product of petrolatum is used in psoriasis treatment, though how it works exactly is unclear. It’s the oldest remedy but it can be greasy and stain clothing, so it’s not always favored. This can be found in products like MG217 Medicated Tar Ointment ($13.78, amazon.com)    

Phototherapy to Treat Psoriasis


phototherapy psoriasis

UV rays can help psoriasis, but you can mimic the effects as well.

Mild to moderate psoriasis can also be improved with moderated amounts of sunlight. The UV-rays kill T-cells, which, as you may recall, at over-produced in patients with psoriasis. This slows the production of excess T and skin cells and can help to manage the problem. However, too much time in the sun that results in a sunburn can actually make psoriasis work.     In order to control the amount of exposure a patient undergoes, artificial light may be used in treatment and there are also medications that mimic UV’s effects.    

Oral Medication to Treat Psoriasis

    Some cases of psoriasis necessitate the use of oral medications, such as Methotrexate, Cyclosporine, and Hydroxyurea. These may suppress the immune system, stopping the cause of psoriasis. Unfortunately, these can have problematic side effects, such as birth defects in pregnant women.     The newest immunosuppressant drugs are known as biologics, and include Amevive®, Raptiva®, and Enbrel®. These have been linked to increased risk of cancer, particularly in children and teenagers, and so the benefits and risks should be weighed with a doctor.    

Bottom Line

    Psoriasis is a condition caused by the immune system. It occurs when there is an overproduction of T cells that, in turn, causes an overproduction of skin cells that cycle too quickly to the top layer to allow the dead skin cells to be sloughed off.     Certain triggers can worsen psoriasis, so it’s important to take care to avoid those. In order to manage psoriasis, it’s important to visit a doctor so you can uncover the best course of action for treating your disorder.     Do you have psoriasis? What questions do you have about the condition? What treatments and management techniques have worked for you? Let us know in the comment section!

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