Getting Under The Skin: What Is Psoriasis?

Northstar Dermatology Psoriasis 101 Understanding the Fundamentals

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder for which there is no cure. It has a number of symptoms, such as a build-up of plaque on the skin particularly on the knees, elbows, and feet, itchiness, soreness and cracked skin. Other symptoms include joint pain and thick, pitted nails. The disease can be quite debilitating and can cause considerable emotional distress.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition which is caused by a disorder of the immune system. It speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells and causes them to build up rapidly on the skin’s surface. There they form red patches which are flaky, and itchy, and sometimes painful. The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown.

Psoriasis in an immune system disorder. Psoriasis causes the body’s T cells, white blood cells, to over-react. This response leads to the over-production of skin cells and inflammation. Although there is no cure, treatment outcomes for managing symptoms are quite positive, though patients do tend to have flare-ups which may be caused by diet, stress or ill health. Flare-ups are also sometimes seasonal.

Scratching the itch: triggers and treatments for psoriasis

A psoriasis flare-up typically starts or gets worse because of a trigger which you may not be aware of, or you may not be able to avoid. Triggers can include a skin infection or injury to the skin, strep throat, a bug bite, sunburn, smoking, stress, heavy alcohol consumption. It may also be triggered by medications such as beta blockers, lithium, or antimalarial drugs.

Psoriasis ointments

  • Salicylic acid: This ointment helps to sooth the skin by stimulating the shedding of psoriatic skin cell build-up. However, long-term use may cause skin irritation and temporary hair loss.
  • Steroid-based creams: This topical treatment relieves inflammation and itching and prevents the over-production of skin cells.
  • Calcitriol ointment: This cream is effective for treating psoriasis when it is combined with corticosteroid cream.
  • Prescription retinoids: This is a topical preparation containing synthetic vitamin A. Though it doesn’t work as quickly as steroid-based cream, it does sooth itching and dryness.

A little dose of sunshine

Regular doses of sunlight which are not strong enough to cause sunburn can also help psoriasis. People with psoriasis should try to avoid trigger foods in their diet, keep their alcohol consumption to a minimum, and consider taking a multivitamin.