photo of mom and daughter inspecting a rash on the daughters elbow

What is psoriasis?

The skin is your body’s largest organ. It protects you – and everything inside of you. But sometimes the skin develops problems of its own.

Everyone’s body generates new skin cells every few weeks, but for people with psoriasis, the process happens in a matter of days. The new skin cells pile up on existing ones, resulting in thick, scaly patches of skin – called plaques. The skin may itch, feel tight, or there may be an intense burning sensation.

What are symptoms of psoriasis?

With psoriasis, patients usually see thick, scaly patches of skin, with a dry, thin, silvery coating. Several
small plaques can join together to form larger plaques. Some patients experience small bumps or painful pus-filled bumps while one form of psoriasis appears as a peeling rash.

Symptoms are most commonly found on:

  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Lower back
  • Scalp

Who has psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin condition that affects approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Psoriasis occurs primarily in adolescents and adults between the ages of 15 and 35, but it can develop at any age. It affects men and women equally. Psoriasis is found in all racial groups but it’s slightly more common among Caucasians.

What causes psoriasis?

The cause of psoriasis is not fully understood, but it’s believed to be the result of an autoimmune response in which the immune system actually fights against its own healthy skin.

Medical researchers say family history of psoriasis is a significant factor in developing the condition. Oftentimes, symptoms may arise as a reaction to certain triggers such as viral, bacterial or skin infections, an injury to the skin (a scrape or severe sunburn), exposure to allergens, obesity, smoking, stress, vitamin D deficiency and certain medications.

What are the types of psoriasis?

Plaque psoriasis

Plaque psoriasis accounts for 80-90 percent of all psoriasis cases and it tends to be a lifelong condition. Along with the thick, scaly patches of skin, there is also a dry, thin, silvery coating. Several small plaques can join together to form larger plaques.

Inverse psoriasis

Inverse psoriasis occurs when symptoms develop where skin touches skin, such as the armpit, groin or under breasts.

Guttate psoriasis

Guttate psoriasis consists of small bumps covering most of the chest, abdomen, back, legs and arms; they may also appear on the face, scalp and ears. This type of psoriasis may go away once it clears.

Pustular psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis consists of painful, pus-filled bumps that develop on hands and feet.

Erythrodermic psoriasis

Erythrodermic psoriasis is the least common type but it is the most serious. The skin may appear red, with a peeling rash that itches or has a burning sensation. Symptoms may cover the entire body. This type of psoriasis requires medical attention.

How is psoriasis diagnosed & treated?

A dermatologist is often best suited to diagnose and treat psoriasis.

Treatment is designed to help clear the skin and reduce the itch and pain that comes with the condition. Depending on how much your body is affected by psoriasis, your doctor may recommend moisturizers and prescribe topical cortisone lotions or ointments. For severe cases, your doctor may recommend immunosuppressive drugs like cyclosporine or methotrexate.

Another option is phototherapy, or light therapy, a procedure that involves exposing the affected skin to ultraviolet light. It can slow the growth of affected cells and relieve itching, allowing time for the skin to heal. This should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional.