What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an immune disease that effects active cells inside your body. Psoriasis occurs when the immune system sends out faulty signals that speed up the growth cycle of skin cells. These excess skin cells accumulate, creating thick and flaky dry patches on the surface of the skin. One of the most frustrating characteristics of psoriasis is that flare ups occur unexpectedly amid periods of mild symptoms. Those with psoriasis are unable to predict when their condition may worsen. Psoriasis can range in comfort level from mildly irritating to severely painful. For some people, psoriasis is a mild nuisance. For others, it can be disabling, affecting extensive areas of skin for long periods. In severe cases, psoriasis occurs with a distinct type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis.
Which type of psoriasis do I have?
- Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis. It affects the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, and genitals.
- Guttate psoriasis causes red spots all over the skin.
- Inverse For those with inverse psoriasis, patches of red, raw looking skin develop where skin touches skin.
- Pustular When pustular psoriasis is present, the skin becomes red and swollen with pus filled bumps.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis is rare but serious. During an erythrodermic flare up, the skin looks burned and the body is unable to maintain a normal, safe temperature.
What are the most common symptoms of psoriasis?
- Reddish, raised areas of inflamed skin
- Scaly, silver colored patches in inflamed areas
- Cracked, dry skin that may bleed
- Sore, itchy, or burning skin
- Small, red spots
What types of treatments are available for psoriasis?
Though psoriasis is incurable, the symptoms can be reduced through a variety of topical and systemic treatments. With care managed by an expert dermatologist, most patients experience relief from flare ups in 85% to 90% of cases. When considering treatment for psoriasis, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment against their list of side effects. Psoriasis treatments are extremely powerful, and many are associated with a high occurrence of side effects.
Steroid creams are the first line of defense against psoriasis. They decrease inflammation, relieve itching, and block the overproduction of skin cells. When patients experience their first flare up, steroid creams are the primary method of treatment.
Calcipotriene, also known as vitamin D, comes in ointment form. It is proven to be effective for treating psoriasis, especially when combined with a topical steroid cream.
Topical retinoid creams contain a synthetic form of vitamin A which can reduce psoriasis symptoms. Though results are slower with retinoids than with steroid creams, retinoids cause fewer side effects.
Coal Tar Ointments and Shampoos
Coal Tar belongs to a class of drugs known as keratoplastics. It works by causing the skin to shed dead cells from its top layer and slow down the growth of new skin cells, resulting in a reduction of itchiness, scaling, and dryness. In most patients, Coal Tar causes a mild side effect of pimple-like rashes. Though this can be easily managed, it’s a factor to consider when choosing this treatment. Since many people prefer to avoid steroids and are often unable to use retinoids long term, Coal Tar treatments may be one of the only topical options for some patients.
Salicylic acid ointment smooths the skin by promoting the shedding of psoriatic scales. It is ideal for flare ups on all parts of the body except the head and scalp, because it may weaken hair shafts leading to hair breakage and temporary hair loss.
Injectable medications called biologics use human or animal proteins to controls the body’s overactive immune response that causes excess cell production. These medications are extremely effective, but they also have a considerable list of potential side effects.
Methotrexate and cyclosporine, also used as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and for various forms of arthritis, dramatically clear psoriasis. However, they are only used for severe cases due to the associated side effects.