As a genetic condition that makes the skin scaly, red, and itchy, psoriasis can be quite a lot to manage. In fact, living with this life-long condition can be extremely tough, not only for the affected person but also for their loved ones as well.
As a condition that seems to affect an entire household, it is important to learn more about it. This article will help you understand the basics of psoriasis, how to identify it, and different ways to manage it.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis refers to an autoimmune issue characterized by a rapid buildup of skin cells, leading to scaling of the skin. These scales are silverish-white in color and often surrounded by redness and inflammation. However, people with darker skin tones may notice them as dark brown or purplish patches. Sometimes, these patches crack and bleed.
Psoriatic scales occur as a result of a faster production of skin cells. Normally, new skin cells keep forming in deeper layers of the skin, slowly rise to the top surface, and fall off eventually. This entire life cycle of skin cells takes around one month to complete. In people with psoriasis, this process is sped up to a few days. As a result, the older skin cells do not get time to fall off and keep getting piled on by the incoming new skin cells from the deeper layers. This leads to over-accumulation and, as a result, scales begin to form.
What Causes Psoriasis?
According to researchers, the following two factors play a key role in triggering psoriasis:
Psoriasis is an autoimmune issue that occurs when the body mistakenly starts attacking its own cells.
Generally, the body contains white blood cells deployed to target and kill any foreign germs and harmful particles. In psoriasis, these white cells attack the skin cells, leading the skin cell production into overdrive. With new cells forming and surfacing too quickly, plaques form on the skin with red, inflamed areas in the surrounding areas.
Psoriasis also shares a genetic link and is likely to hit people who have a positive family history of this disease.
Symptoms of Psoriasis
The symptoms of psoriasis generally differ from one person to another in nature and severity. For some, the affected areas are small with only a few flakes on the elbows or scalp, and for others, the plaques may cover the majority of the body.
Some of the most common psoriasis symptoms include:
- Raised, swollen skin patches appearing red (on lighter skin tones) or purple (on darker skin tones)
- Silverish-white scales on red patches or gray scales on purple patches
- Excessive skin dryness, leading to cracking and bleeding
- Soreness around patches
- Thick, pitted nails
- Itchiness around patches
- Painful joints
Keep in mind that not everyone develops the full range of psoriasis symptoms. For most people, these symptoms come and go in the form of cycles. For example, the symptoms may appear for days or weeks and then clear up for the next few weeks (remission). Then, the symptoms may reappear following a psoriasis trigger, leading to a flare-up.
A doctor may perform the following two tests to confirm psoriasis.
Sometimes, a diagnosis can be made with a simple physical exam. This is common in cases where the psoriasis symptoms are evident and easily discernible. Don’t forget to show all affected areas to your doctor and inform them about the positive family history, if any.
If your symptoms are vague or unclear, a doctor may take a small sample from your skin for biopsy. To make the procedure less painful, an injectable numbing medication can be used. Once the sample is taken, it is sent to a laboratory for detailed analysis under a microscope.
Unfortunately, psoriasis is a lifelong condition with no cure. Treatment does exist but it mainly focuses on slowing down the growth of skin cells, reducing scales, and removing plaques.
The traditional medical management of psoriasis falls into the following three categories:
#1 - Creams and Ointments
This includes the application of corticosteroids, vitamin D analogs, anthralin, or salicylic acid directly on the skin to reduce mild to moderate episodes.
#2 - Systemic Medications
Systemic medications are recommended for people with moderate to severe psoriasis or those resistant to topical treatment. It usually comes as oral or injected medications and can cause side effects due to which only short-term courses are prescribed.
Medicines commonly used for managing psoriasis include cyclosporine, methotrexate, oral retinoids, and biologics.
#3 - Light therapy
This type of treatment uses natural light or ultraviolet rays to kill the overactive white blood cells. Once these white cells that are attacking healthy skin cells are managed, the severity of psoriasis symptoms can be successfully controlled.
In most cases, a doctor prescribes a combination of the above-mentioned treatments to manage psoriasis. Some people continue to follow the same treatment plan for the rest of their lives while others require frequent adjustments as their bodies stop responding to the current treatment.
Managing Psoriasis Naturally
In addition to receiving necessary medical help, there is a lot you can do on your part to control and manage psoriasis in a better way. Some tips in this context are explained below.
#1 - Identify and Avoid Triggers
Psoriasis has a lot of external triggers that may start a new flare-up. These triggers usually vary from one person to another and may also change with time. Some of the most common triggers for psoriasis include:
Stress is possibly one of the primary triggers leading to a psoriasis flare-up. Learn to manage stress with relaxing practices like yoga, breathing exercises, and soothing music to avoid any unwanted bouts of psoriasis.
Alcohol and Smoking
Psoriasis may become more frequent for you if you are a habitual drinker or smoker. Consider cutting back on your alcohol consumption and smoking or try to quit if possible. Your doctor might be able to help you out in this aspect.
Receiving a cut, scrape, or an injury of any sort may lead to a flare-up. Similarly, getting a vaccine or an injection may trigger a new outbreak as well.
Certain medications like antimalarial pills, lithium, and medication to control blood pressure can trigger psoriasis, Talk to your doctor if you are consuming any of these medicines routinely.
Because a faulty immune system is partly responsible for psoriasis, acquiring an infection that activates the immune cells can lead to an acute episode.
It’s unclear how weight interacts with psoriasis, but losing excess weight may also help in making treatments more effective. If you’re overweight, working toward reaching a moderate weight, may help in reducing the severity of the condition.
#2 - Eat a Healthy Diet
Try to eat a healthy diet to control the symptoms of psoriasis while improving the response to treatment. For this purpose, follow the tips mentioned below:
- Control your intake of saturated fats from dairy, meat, and other animal products.
- Make sure to get enough lean protein from sardines, shrimps, soybeans, flax seeds, walnuts, and salmon
#3 - Try Supplements
Sometimes, taking a dietary supplement helps ease the symptoms of psoriasis. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, supplements containing milk thistle, vitamin D, fish oil, evening primrose oil, and Oregon grape have been particularly linked to easing mild psoriasis symptoms.
Make sure to consult with your doctor before trying out a supplement to confirm that it does not interfere with any medicine you are taking.
#4 - Use Aloe Vera
Research has proven that using aloe vera can reduce irritation and redness associated with psoriasis. A particular study established aloe gel to be more effective than 0.1% triamcinolone acetonide (a steroid) for treating psoriasis.
More research is required to be sure if using aloe can improve symptoms for sure. However, because it is natural and a low-risk agent, its worth trying to see if it works for you or your loved one.
#5 - Stop Using Fragrances
Fragrances may make you smell good but can irritate your skin and trigger psoriasis. So avoid using fragrances and any products that may contain it, including soaps and lotions.
Try buying products for sensitive skin as they are milder and safer.
#6 - Get into a Relaxing Bath
Draw a lukewarm bath for yourself and include Epsom salt in it to relieve itching and get rid of scales. You may consider using olive oil, mineral oil, or milk instead of Epsom salt. Oatmeal bath is another option for soothing psoriatic plaques.
Make sure that the temperature of the water is not too hot and don’t forget to moisturize your skin soon after.
#7 - Try Turmeric
Turmeric is a famous Ayurvedic herb that can successfully minimize psoriasis flare-ups. You can sprinkle it on your food or consider using it in a supplement form. Talk with your doctor regarding dosage as well as discuss any medication you may be taking to see if turmeric is right for you.
In a Nutshell
Psoriasis can be a life-changing diagnosis for anybody. Characterized by itchy, inflamed skin with scales, this skin disorder is genetic and partially caused by a faulty immune system. While there is no permanent cure for psoriasis, different treatment plans are offered to control and minimize flare-ups. In addition to traditional medical management, you can also try getting control over this problem with simple everyday tips like eating healthily, consuming turmeric, using aloe vera, and avoiding triggers.