Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition where inflammation of the skin appears as raised, red patches with silvery to white scales on it. While it is a fairly common condition, it is often misdiagnosed in the early stages, especially in young people.
As a chronic condition, psoriasis will never go away – instead you may have periods where it settles down almost completely (remission) and then it recurs. In some people, psoriasis will occur with other conditions like arthritis – psoriatic arthritis.
Causes of Psoriasis
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where your body’s immune cells (white blood cells) attack your own skin cells. This causes inflammation. The skin cells also multiply very fast not giving the skin enough time to shed its outer layers at a normal rate. This causes thickening of the skin.
The exact reason why this occurs is not known. It is believed that there is a genetic component as familial patterns of psoriasis and arthritis are often evident. Genetic mutations may also be due to certain environmental factors, however, it has not been properly ascertained whether these are just triggers for psoriasis or actual causes.
There is growing evidence to suggest that any situation or condition that can lower your immune system may lead to psoriasis. This includes HIV/AIDS and children who tend to fall ill often, usually with a strep sore throat, also appear to be at a greater risk. Obesity is another risk factor for developing psoriasis.
Some of the other triggers are :
- Stress – physical, mental or emotional.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Certain drugs prescribed for depression, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, thyroid disorders and drugs for malaria.
- Injury to the skin- wherever there is any skin damage.
- Skin infections.
- Weather changes.
Signs and Symptoms of Psoriasis
There many types of psoriasis and the presentation may vary slightly. In most cases, psoriasis appears as follows :
- Thick patches of skin – patch may be red or have a red border with white-silver skin scales.
- Scaly, dry skin – scales fall off easily, even with light scratching.
- Itching – may vary at certain times or in different people.
- Burning or pain usually after excessive scratching.
- Bleeding of the skin.
- Changes in the fingernails or toenails.
- Painful joints in cases of psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriasis can affect many parts of the body including the scalp and nails. It tends to occur on the extensor surfaces (like the top of your arm or front of your leg).
Coal tar and moisturising creams are used to help relieve the thickening of the skin and reduce itching. This only offers symptomatic relief and helps to prevent aggravations but will not stop the psoriasis. Salicylic acid may be added to coal tar and other moisturisers – this promotes the shedding of dead skin cells.
Topical corticosteroids, like steroid creams, are more often used to ease the psoriasis. The skin lesions may clear completely with steroids (topical and oral) but they often return once the steroid cream is stopped and can be worse than before using steroids (rebound effect).
Your dermatologist may also prescribe other medication and treatment options like psoralens and PUVA, anthralins, and retinoids (chemically related to vitamin A) and calcipotriol. Methotrexate which is commonly used these days is a drug that suppresses the immune system. These treatment options should be supervised by a dermatologist as some can have serious side effects.
Stress management and maintaining a healthy skin with proper bathing, moisturising and sunlight exposure are important considerations in managing psoriasis. Alternative treatments like homeopathy and herbal remedies may provide some relief but you should first speak to your doctor before starting these remedies.
Diet and Foods for Psoriasis
Eating a healthy balanced diet is beneficial in any medical condition. Some psoriasis sufferers report an improvement in their condition after stopping animal protein – meat and dairy. Other psoriasis diet tips may be helpful to a few sufferers but there is no significant medical evidence to suggest that it is useful in all cases.
Balanced meals throughout the day is important. Fresh fruit and vegetables also play an important part as the phytochemicals in the skin of fruits and vegetables are beneficial for the health of your skin. Avoid alcohol – apart from aggravating your condition, it can also reduce the effect of your psoriasis drugs.
If you find that a certain food aggravates your condition, then you should avoid it. Unlike skin conditions like eczema, there is no clear link between specific foods and psoriasis.