Managing psoriasis: A common skin condition with wide-ranging effects
Its impact is more than skin deep
Psoriasis is a common skin condition affecting more than 3 million people each year. Marked by red, itchy patches all over the body, psoriasis is a chronic disease that accelerates the life cycle of skin cells, causing a build-up of extra dead skin cells and inflammation.
“Psoriasis can be very painful for some patients,” said Geisinger dermatologist Howard Pride, MD. “There are several types, but the most common is plaque psoriasis.”
Symptoms of plaque psoriasis include red lesions with silvery scales on the arms, legs, hands and scalp. Though the cause of psoriasis isn’t known, it’s believed to be related to an immune system deficiency or issue with white blood cells. Currently, there is no cure for plaque psoriasis.
Psoriasis can also affect your mental health. Having the condition increases your risk of depression by 40 percent, and over half of psoriasis sufferers say the condition is a very large problem in their daily lives.
“Like any skin condition, psoriasis can have a profound effect on a person’s self-confidence and interpersonal relationships,” said Dr. Pride. “Practicing self-acceptance and finding effective treatments are extremely important to managing your physical and emotional health.”
Here’s what you need to know about managing plaque psoriasis.
Know your triggers
Certain lifestyle or environmental factors may trigger or worsen your psoriasis. Understanding and avoiding what triggers your symptoms may provide relief from pain and itching, as well as a reduction of visible irritation. Some common triggers include:
- Medications such as beta blockers or lithium
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Excess alcohol consumption
Many patients find that gluten or dairy may cause their psoriasis to flare up. Excess weight may also increase the risk and severity of a psoriasis flare-up, as plaques often appear in places where the skin folds.
Try over-the-counter or at-home treatments
You can treat psoriasis with over-the-counter (OTC) and at-home remedies, in addition to prescription medications.
“When shopping for an OTC topical treatment, it’s important to look for two major ingredients: salicylic acid and wood or coal tar,” said Dr. Pride. Salicylic acid softens and removes the flaky scales covering plaques, while the wood or coal tar slows cell growth and reduces inflammation. Both can be found in lotions and soaps at your local drug store or supermarket.
Your doctor may also recommend phototherapy treatments using ultraviolet light. You can naturally absorb ultraviolet light just by spending time outside, but there are also artificial means during colder months or in less sunny areas.
Turn to prescription treatments
If you have a more severe case of psoriasis, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication to ease symptoms. These include:
- Topical corticosteroids, which are the most popular medications for psoriasis. They reduce inflammation and itchiness and can be formulated with various levels of potency depending on the severity of symptoms.
- Synthetic Vitamin D, which slows skin cell growth. It comes in two major varieties: calcipotriene and calcitriol. Calcipotriene can be irritating to the skin. Calcitriol is less irritating, but much more expensive.
- Anthralin, a short-term topical medication that slows cell growth but is prone to irritation and can stain clothing.
- Topical retinoids, which are an effective anti-inflammatory found in many of the most popular anti-aging skincare products. However, they can increase sensitivity to sunlight and cause unwanted side effects in pregnant or nursing women.
Dr. Howard Pride is director of Dermatology at Geisinger and specializes in pediatric dermatology. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-275-6401 or click here.