Living With Psoriasis
(Psoriasis Awareness Month, August 2020)
More than 7.5 million Americans suffer from a chronic and incurable disease called psoriasis. Although it is not contagious, its physical manifestation significantly impacts the quality of life of those who have it.
Seeing whitish scale-like patches on someone’s skin automatically elicit adverse reactions from people, making it worse for people with psoriasis. What could have been a great chance to show support became a way to discriminate against people who are already in pain.
As the Psoriasis Awareness Month approaches (August), let us join hands in spreading accurate information regarding the disease. Awareness and proper knowledge go a long way to make the life of people with psoriasis a little less stressful.
So, here is everything you need to know about the debilitating illness and how to help people who have it.
What Is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation in the skin. It happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks the skin cells, causing them to become overactive by speeding up the skin cell production.
Typically, it takes 3 to 4 weeks before the skin sheds old cells and replaces them with new ones. But in psoriasis, it only takes 3 to 7 days for the skin to produce new cells.
This rapid production of skin cells causes them to stack up with one another, creating whitish scaly texture in thick red patches all over the body. Redness and inflammation are also a common manifestation of the disease, which is the result of the attack induced by the immune system.
Psoriasis is NOT contagious. You cannot contract the disease by touching a psoriatic lesion. It can only be passed through genes, making you more likely to develop the illness if it runs in your family.
What Are Its Symptoms?
Symptoms differ depending on the type of psoriasis you have and its severity. Here are some common types of the disease:
- Plaque psoriasis – the most frequent type of the disease.
- Scalp psoriasis – occurs mainly on portions of the scalp (sometimes in its entirety).
- Nail psoriasis – causes tiny pits on the nails.
- Guttate psoriasis – occurs commonly during childhood and teenage years.
- Inverse psoriasis – mainly develops on the creases of the skin (e.g., armpits, groin)
- Pustular psoriasis – a rare type of psoriasis disease.
Click here for more information on the types of psoriasis, their manifestation, and triggers.
Symptoms also vary depending on whether the disease is on its remission stage (symptoms subsides) or in its flare-up phase where symptoms worsen, especially during exposure to a particular trigger.
However, there are still common symptoms consistently exhibited by two or three of psoriasis types.
- Red and dry patches of skin, covered in silver scales.
- Soreness and itchiness around the patches.
- Burning sensation
- Dry skin that may crack and bleed at times
The skin manifestations frequently appear around the joints, such as elbows and knees. It is also commonly seen in the hands, feet, neck, and face.
What Are Its Triggers?
Most people with psoriasis attest to symptoms worsening due to a specific “trigger.” Triggers vary from person to person; so, it is essential to know what triggers your symptoms to prevent flare-ups.
Common triggers of the disease include the following.
- Excessive drinking and smoking
- Injury to the skin, such as an insect bite, scrape or cut
- Hormonal changes (puberty and pregnancy)
- Medications such as lithium, anti-inflammatory medicines (ibuprofen), and anti-malarial treatments.
- Throat infections caused by a streptococcal bacterium
- Underlying medical conditions such as HIV and AIDS
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
In most cases, your GP or a skin specialist can diagnose the disease based on its presentation in your skin.
But some symptoms are similar to other skin conditions such as eczema, which is why doctors may order a biopsy examination. For severe cases such as joint pains and inflammation, blood tests and X-rays may be done.
Psoriasis may be incurable, but there are treatment plans that help relieve its symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Doctors may prescribe topical creams and ointments to reduce itchiness and burning sensation, as well as bring local relief to the skin.
Topical medications include salicylic acid, steroid-based ointments, calcitriol, emollients, Vitamin D analogs, coal tar, and prescription retinoids.
Phototherapeutic practices refer to the use of natural or artificial light to treat psoriasis symptoms, especially skin lesions. This is usually an option reserved for patients not responding well with topical treatments
- Ultraviolet B light – uses UVB light wavelengths, sometimes together with other medications such as coal tar.
- Psoralen plus ultraviolet A or PUVA – skin exposure to UVA light ray paired with prescription tablets containing a compound called psoralen.
- Narrowband UVB therapy – a targeted phototherapy treatment that is less likely to cause cancer.
Oral Medications and Injectables
Doctors use this as their last resort of treatment plan, in case topical and phototherapy fail to work. There are two types of medications—biologic and nonbiologic.
Biologic ones are those administered as injections such as Etanercept and Adalimumab. On the other hand, non-biologic compounds are given orally, such as methotrexate, ciclosporin, and acitretin.
Tips for Family and Friends
Living with psoriasis is already hard enough without discrimination from family and friends. Here are ways on how to help them live a quality life.
- Do your research. Start by educating yourself with the basics of the disease. Learn about it so you can spread the word and increase awareness.
- Ask what they need. It is one thing to offer help and another to actually ask what your loved one needs. Maybe for once, what they want is someone to talk to about things unrelated to psoriasis.
- Encourage them to get treatment. Do not be pushy. Suggest treatment plans to them and make it known that you will accompany them every step of the way. Maybe all they need is someone to be with them during a doctor’s appointment or someone to enter them in memory care services to battle the cognitive impairment that comes with psoriasis.
- Stay connected, but don’t take on too much. Don’t let them feel smothered. Be there and show support once in a while or during rough times. It is also essential to have a life of your own to not feel any resentment in the future.