Eczema vs. Psoriasis: The Difference Between These Skin Conditions

October 10, 2017

Eczema and psoriasis have many things in common. They both cause the skin to become inflamed and affect men and women alike, and symptoms can begin at any age. But when it comes to eczema vs. psoriasis, there are also many important distinctions.

“Eczema and psoriasis can sometimes have similar symptoms, but they are two very different conditions,” says Dr. Russell Peckham, a board-certified dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners Cedar Park. “An accurate diagnosis is the first step in any effective treatment plan.”

So, what are the differences between these two skin conditions? Our experts weigh in.

Eczema vs. Psoriasis: What Are the Differences?

Both psoriasis and eczema, also sometimes called dermatitis, are skin conditions characterized by inflammation of the skin. Eczema symptoms can range from dry, scaly skin with mild itching and redness to thick and severely cracked skin that itches constantly. Psoriasis most commonly appears as raised patches of skin that become red and inflamed. These patches can be covered with a silvery-white, scaly coating and can also itch.

The Immune System Plays a Role in Both

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that develops when the immune system mistakes skin cells for a virus or other infection, causing skin cells to grow too quickly. Instead of shedding the excess skin cells, the cells pile up on the skin and cause scaly patches. Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, genetics — as well as an overactive immune system — can increase your risk of developing some types of dermatitis.

Stress, Illness, and Extreme Weather Affect Both

Stress and extreme cold, dry weather can trigger eczema and psoriasis in some people. Other factors that affect eczema include allergies and health conditions such as congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, or HIV. Contact with irritating substances or fabrics can also cause eczema to worsen. Psoriasis can be triggered by common illnesses such as strep throat, hormonal changes, an injury to the skin such as a cut or extreme sunburn, or by taking certain medications.

Both Can Appear Anywhere

Eczema is most commonly found on the elbows, wrists, face, neck, knees, ankles, and groin, but it can appear anywhere on the body. Psoriasis mostly occurs on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp, but — like eczema — patches can appear anywhere.

Both Are Common, but Eczema is More Common

Eczema affects 10-20% of all infants in the U.S. and about 3% of adults and children. It is estimated that more than 31 million people in the U.S. have some form of eczema. Most babies outgrow the condition by the age of ten. In the U.S., about 7.5 million people — roughly 2.2% of the population — have psoriasis.

Eczema Usually Shows Up in Children

Eczema can affect men and women of all ages, but it rarely initially shows up in adults; it is most common for children to show symptoms of eczema. Symptoms can begin as early as 2-3 months old, and most people who develop eczema (90%) do so before the age of five. About half of those who develop eczema during childhood continue to have mild symptoms into adulthood. Though it can begin at any time, psoriasis is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 30, and again between the ages of 50 and 60.

There are Five Types of Psoriasis

Symptoms of psoriasis depend on which type you have. Plaque psoriasis, the most common, is characterized by raised, reddish patches on the skin covered with a silvery-white “scale.”

Other forms of psoriasis include:

  • Guttate psoriasis (small, red dots that often appear after an illness);
  • Pustular psoriasis (pus-filled blisters typically covering the hands and feet);
  • Inverse psoriasis (smooth, red patches of skin that look raw); and
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis (the most severe form of psoriasis defined by skin that turns bright red as if it has been burned, combined with intense itching and pain).

Neither is Contagious

You cannot catch eczema or psoriasis from another person. The exact causes for both conditions are unknown, but genetics are thought to play a role. People with eczema tend to have family members who suffer from eczema, and sometimes asthma or hay fever. Children are more likely to develop eczema if one or both parents also have the condition. Similarly, people with psoriasis usually have one or more people in their family with psoriasis.

What are the Treatments for Eczema vs. Psoriasis?

There are many available treatments for psoriasis, depending on the severity of the condition. Typically, psoriasis goes through cycles of improving and worsening, which are called “flares.”

Treatment typically starts with a topical cream applied directly to the skin to soothe inflammation and progresses to more powerful medications that can be taken by mouth or via injection if needed. Phototherapy, or light therapy, can also treat psoriasis by using UV light to penetrate the skin and slow the growth of cells.

“Psoriasis symptoms typically come and go over time,” says Dr. Peckham. “Though there is no known cure, the right treatment can reduce your symptoms and greatly improve your overall quality of life.”

There is no known cure for eczema, either, and treatment also depends on the severity of your symptoms. For mild cases of eczema, using lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free soap that does not dry the skin — followed by a high-quality lotion after bathing — is often recommended. For more severe cases, a topical corticosteroid or other over-the-counter or prescription ointment, combined with an oral steroid, may be recommended.

“Like psoriasis, there is no cure for eczema, but you can prevent and control flare-ups with the right treatment plan,” says Dr. Peckham. “Your eczema may never completely go away, but treatment can stop it from getting worse and can make you feel much better.”

Looking to Visit a Dermatologist for Eczema or Psoriasis?

To learn more about eczema and psoriasis and to develop a treatment plan that works for you, contact U.S. Dermatology Partners today. We have multiple locations throughout the country, so fill out our simple online form to get in touch with us. One of our local team members will reach out to you shortly to answer your questions or schedule an appointment for you to visit us soon.

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