August is Psoriasis Awareness Month, and as dermatologists, helping to spread information about common skin conditions is an important part of our practice. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 8 million people in the U.S. have psoriasis, meaning this common skin health issue affects about 2.5% of the population. While many people are aware of their condition, there are many suffering without appropriate treatment. Our team of skin health professionals work with patients every day to receive appropriate psoriasis diagnoses and develop treatment plans to prevent psoriasis flareups and keep patients comfortable and healthy. Keep reading to learn a bit more about psoriasis and the treatments available to improve your skin health.
Psoriasis Awareness Month: What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that leads to the rapid buildup of skin cells that can cause the development of scaly patches of skin called plaques, as well as inflammation and joint pain. There are actually five different forms of psoriasis:
- Plaque psoriasis – The most common form of the condition, this type of psoriasis causes the red, raised areas of skin buildup called “plaques” that are most often associated with psoriasis.
- Guttate psoriasis – This most often occurs in children. An outbreak is usually triggered by a streptococcus infection and leads to small red or pink spots on the torso, arms, and legs.
- Pustular psoriasis – In most cases, this form of psoriasis affects adults and is limited to localized areas like the hands and feet. In addition to the typical psoriasis plaques, pustular psoriasis may also include blisters and pus-filled sores.
- Inverse psoriasis – Inverse psoriasis creates the skin plaques common for psoriasis sufferers. But in this type, the plaques almost always develop in skin folds, including areas like the underarms, beneath the breasts, and around the genitals.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis – This is the most severe form of the condition and it is also very rare. Covering large areas of the skin at one time, people with this form of psoriasis may appear sunburned. This form of psoriasis can lead to high fever and illness. It can be life-threatening if left untreated.
What Causes Psoriasis?
In almost all cases, psoriasis is inherited. You should take time to explore your family’s history with the condition before visiting a dermatologist. Psoriasis is a genetic disease in which the immune system becomes hyperactive in a very specific way. Usually, our immune systems are meant to fight infections by recognizing cells and chemicals that are foreign to our bodies. Once our immune systems recognize these foreign invaders, they work to destroy or remove them from our bodies. In psoriasis, our body’s immune response becomes too active and is not directed at a specific invader. As a result, our bodies have more inflammation than we should. This inflammation affects all of our organ systems, the largest of which is the skin. In many ways, the rash in psoriasis is a window into the body for patients to see how much-uncontrolled inflammation they have.
What Other Skin Condition(s) is Psoriasis Typically Misdiagnosed or Confused With?
One of the issues that come from lack of awareness and misinformation about psoriasis is that it can be confused with many other common skin conditions. Psoriasis can commonly be misdiagnosed as a number of other skin problems, including eczema, ringworm, contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, or even sexually transmitted diseases (for those patients who only have psoriasis on their genitals). That’s why it’s so important to see a board-certified dermatologist for these issues.
What are the Telltale Signs that My Symptoms are Psoriasis?
Because psoriasis is so often confused with skin conditions that are similar in appearance, increased education and awareness about psoriasis is important. Most people notice these psoriasis flareups on the elbows and knees. They may also appear in a number of other areas. These include the scalp, inside the ears, the belly button, the lower back and gluteal cleft, palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and the genital area. If you’re worried your skin condition may be psoriasis, take some time to examine the affected area and look for the following characteristics that indicate the skin condition is likely psoriasis:
- The skin condition usually presents as pink or red raised patches of skin that often look and feel inflamed (swollen, feverish).
- In many cases, these red or pink skin layers have white or silvery scales overlying them.
- Soreness, heat, itching, and burning around the skin patches are all common conditions.
- Thickened or pitted fingernails and toenails often accompany psoriasis.
- Swelling or pain in the joints is also common.
Every person’s experience with psoriasis is different, so you may not experience all of these side effects. Visiting a dermatologist for diagnosis is essential if you notice any combination of these side effects.
What are the Best Treatment Options for Psoriasis?
Every patient will receive a personalized psoriasis treatment plan, but here is the recommended one:
- If patients have a few patches of psoriasis, potent topical steroids are the best option.
- For some patients with mild to moderate psoriasis, light therapy (in which patients receive treatment with specific wavelengths of light for short amounts of time) may be the best option.
- For patients with more widespread psoriasis, oral or injectable systemic treatments are the best option. Once the disease becomes widespread and severe, systemic treatments are crucial to not only controlling the skin disease but also the systemic (whole-body) inflammation that can damage other organ systems as well.
Is There Anything New or Interesting Related to the Treatment of Psoriasis?
Dermatologists and dermatological researchers have worked diligently to make progress to improve treatment for those diagnosed with psoriasis. The treatment of psoriasis has come a really long way over the last 15-20 years. Most patients with severe disease, if managed properly, can expect 90% to 100% clearance of their disease. Science has come so far for psoriasis that, in this day and age, no one should have to live with the debilitating effects of this condition. If you’ve visited a dermatologist in the past only to be told there was not much they could do for you, it may be time to schedule another appointment.
When Should I Work with U.S. Dermatology Partners?
If you suffer from psoriasis, U.S. Dermatology Partners would love to work with you to create a plan to prevent flareups and maintain healthy, beautiful skin. There are U.S. Dermatology Partners locations nationally, so just take a few minutes to fill out our appointment request form. One of our team members will be in touch soon to schedule your visit and answer any questions you have.
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