If you're suffering from red, scaly patches, the culprit could be a common skin condition called psoriasis. It happens when the body makes new skin cells faster than normal. As a result, the cells can pile up quickly on the surface and become visible patches on your trunk, scalp, elbows, or knees. While the condition isn't contagious, it can cause intense itching and pain. Fortunately, several effective treatments are available to minimize symptoms and reduce flare-ups. Whether you've been diagnosed recently or are wondering if you have psoriasis, here's everything you need to know.
What Is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a complex inflammatory disease with several potential causes. It can run in families and may be triggered by a stressful event, such as a viral or bacterial infection. The hallmark psoriasis patches often appear as a skin rash but can occasionally involve the joints or nails. Genetic and immune factors appear to be the main culprits, along with environmental causes.
There are five different types of psoriasis:
- Plaque: The most common subtype. It affects up to 80% of sufferers and features dry, itchy plaques with scales. Although they can affect any part of the body, the patches most often appear on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back.
- Guttate: Most often appears in children and young adults, and may be triggered by a bacterial infection, such as strep throat. Common signs include small red spots that typically appear on the legs, arms, and torso.
- Pustular: A rare type of psoriasis characterized by pus-filled blisters. These can occur on the palms or the soles or in patches that cover large parts of the body. This subtype affects 3% of the population and is most common in older adults.
- Inverse: Characterized by smooth patches of red and inflamed skin, this subtype often appears on the groin, breasts, and underarms. It can cause severe itching and pain and may get worse with sweat and friction. Inverse psoriasis can be triggered by a fungal infection.
- Erythrodermic: This subtype only affects around 3% of psoriasis sufferers, but is considered to be the most severe form. It can cover most of the body with a peeling rash that causes intense burning or itching. In some people, the affected areas are large enough to resemble a sunburn over most of their bodies.
How Can Psoriasis Be Treated?
There isn't a standard approach to treating psoriasis as some options work better for certain individuals. Sometimes, a combination is the most effective approach. Your physician can help you figure out the most appropriate choice for your psoriasis, depending on the type and severity of your condition.
If your psoriasis is mild to moderate, you might start with a corticosteroid, such as hydrocortisone. Most people can treat their symptoms successfully by applying the medication directly to the skin. Your dermatologist might also recommend moisturizer, whether you have a mild or severe case.
There are also other options for moderate to severe psoriasis that hasn't improved with topical treatments. Phototherapy, a treatment that exposes skin to ultraviolet light, is one example. Your doctor may prescribe methotrexate, an oral tablet for severe psoriasis, or adalimumab (Humira), which can reduce symptoms of chronic plaque psoriasis.
You might also benefit from a subcutaneous injection, which is given underneath the skin and is absorbed slowly. One option is infliximab (Remicade). Injections are often given every two to eight weeks, occurring more frequently in the beginning and less often as the treatment progresses. Remicade can be used alone or combined with other treatment options for maximum effectiveness.