Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that is cyclical — it comes and goes and occurs most often on the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp. There are five types of psoriasis — plaque psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis — none are contagious. Each type causes a different skin rash and can appear on different areas of the body.
Symptoms can range from mild, small, dry skin patches where a person may not suspect they have a skin condition at all to severe psoriasis where a person’s entire body may be affected with red, scaly skin plaques. In some people, psoriasis causes more than itchiness and red skin. It can lead to swollen joints and arthritis. If you have psoriasis, you may be at higher risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, strokes and heart attacks, so get any skin conditions checked out by your doctor.
Psoriasis outbreaks differ from person to person. No one knows exactly what causes flare-ups but triggers include:
- Skin injury (cuts, scrapes or surgery)
- Emotional stress
- Streptococcal or other infection that affects the immune system
- Certain prescription medications (such as lithium and beta blockers)
- Cold weather, when people have less exposure to sunlight and humidity and more to hot, dry indoor air
What type of treatments are there?
Creams or ointments may be enough to improve the rash in small areas of skin and include:
- Steroid creams
- Moisturizers for dry skin
- Anthralin, a medication to slow skin cell production
- Medicated lotions
- UV light therapy for severe cases
- Vitamin D3 ointment
- Vitamin A or topical retinoid creams
If you have moderate to severe psoriasis — or if psoriasis stops responding to other treatments, your doctor may consider an oral or injected medication including:
- Cyclosporine, or
Living with psoriasis can be challenging, as the condition may affect physical, mental, and social health. However, there are steps to manage the condition. Living a balanced lifestyle, regularly attending appointments, and practicing stress management techniques are among the ways to minimize symptoms and improve the quality of life.
Doctors recommend the following:
Eat a healthy diet:
The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) reports that there is evidence to suggest that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the severity of psoriasis. This anti-inflammatory diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish.
Stop smoking: A 2016 article states that individuals who smoke have a higher risk of psoriasis. Smoking may also make the condition more severe and reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
Maintain a moderate weight: The AAD advises that losing excess body weight may lead to fewer flare-ups and make medications more effective.
Drink alcohol in moderation: A 2019 article notes that alcohol consumption may trigger or worsen psoriasis. However, the authors say that more research is necessary to prove the link and determine the amount of alcohol that may cause negative effects.
Reduce stress: Stress often triggers flare-ups of psoriasis. Stress-reducing strategies, such as meditation, exercise, and deep breathing, may help reduce the severity or frequency of flare-ups.
Regular exercise: Research indicates that psoriasis improves with regular workouts. People should check with their doctor before starting an exercise routine, but most individuals with psoriasis who are otherwise healthy can benefit from physical activity.
Join a support group or seeing a mental health practitioner: Living with psoriasis can affect mental health and increase the risk of conditions such as anxiety and depression. Getting support can help a person better manage their mental health.
See your healthcare provider regularly: Although there is no cure for psoriasis, a doctor can prescribe medications and other treatments that may help control symptoms.
Self-Care – Alongside lifestyle practices, self-care can play a role in minimizing symptom frequency and severity.
Skin and Hair Care
People with psoriasis typically experience dry skin that can easily become irritated. Take measures to prevent further drying and irritation including:
- Take a short bath or shower with warm water instead of taking a long, hot bath
- Use a moisturizing soap that is suitable for sensitive skin
- Apply a fragrance-free moisturizer after showering or bathing
- Be gentle when brushing the hair
- Limit use of hot rollers, curling irons or blow dryers
- Avoid hair colorants, relaxants, perms and any harsh chemicals
- Remove scales with medications, such as salicylic acid
- Avoid scratching
- Use an itch-relieving product, such as one with camphor or menthol
Anything that comes into contact with the skin may irritate psoriasis. The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance recommends wearing loose clothing, especially during flare-ups, to prevent further irritation from clothing. It may also be advisable to avoid constrictive garments, such as elasticized waistbands, tights, and socks.
Talk to your doctor if your psoriasis becomes severe or widespread, causes you discomfort and pain, causes you concern about the appearance of your skin, leads to joint problems, such as pain, swelling or inability to perform daily tasks, or doesn’t improve with self treatment.