Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes skin cells to multiply up to ten times faster than usual, resulting in a build-up of bumpy red patches covered with white scales on the skin. Psoriasis can affect the skin on any part of the body but usually develops on the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp.
Psoriasis is a long-term, chronic condition with no cure. It is not contagious and usually flares up in cycles of a few weeks or months before subsiding or going into remission.
Signs & symptoms of psoriasis
The signs and symptoms of psoriasis can vary among individuals. Common symptoms include:
- Raised, inflamed patches of skin which appear red on light skin and brown or purple on dark skin
- Red patches of skin covered with silver-coloured scales
- Dry skin that may crack or bleed
- Thick, pitted nails
- Swollen and stiff joints
What causes psoriasis?
Currently, it is unclear what exactly causes psoriasis. However, researchers believe that two main factors are responsible for the development of psoriasis: the immune system and genetics. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition where the body’s natural defence system attacks normal cells, triggering new skin cells to form too quickly.
This condition also tends to run in the family. If you have an immediate family member with psoriasis, you are more likely to develop it.
That said, it is worth noting that there are a few trigger factors that can increase your risk of developing psoriasis:
- Stress: High levels of stress may trigger a flare-up.
- Smoking: Smoking may have a role to play in the initial development of the condition. It may also increase the severity of the disease.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can result in more frequent psoriasis outbreaks.
- Injuries: Injuries like cuts and scrapes can trigger flare-ups.
- Medication: Certain medications, like beta-blockers for blood pressure and antimalarial medications, are triggers for psoriasis.
- Infection: Since psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, you may be at increased risk of developing the disease if you are ill, and your immune system goes into overdrive to fight the infection.
What are the complications of psoriasis?
If you have psoriasis, you are at greater risk of developing other conditions, including:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Eye conditions
What to do if you suspect you have psoriasis
If you think you have this condition, see a doctor immediately. Upon diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe treatment options according to the severity of your condition. Common treatments for psoriasis include steroid creams, moisturisers, ointment and retinoid creams. For moderate to severe psoriasis, your doctor may recommend treatments like light therapy and biologic medications.
How to prevent psoriasis flare-ups
There may be no cure for psoriasis, but there are some ways that can prevent flare-ups and reduce their severity:
- Keep affected areas of the skin moisturised. Opt for moisturisers that contain mineral oils like petrolatum and liquid paraffin. You may also use natural home remedies with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, such as aloe vera gel and coconut oil.
- Get regular (but safe) exposure to sunlight. Natural sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can alleviate symptoms of autoimmune conditions like psoriasis. However, make sure to wear sunscreen before heading out and avoid spending too much time in the sun.
- Consume vitamin D. Research has suggested that vitamin D deficiency is a common issue in people with psoriasis. So, consuming vitamin D may help to prevent psoriasis flare-ups. You can get vitamin D from natural sunlight, foods like salmon, milk and fortified cereals, and vitamin D supplements.
- Prevent skin injuries. Avoiding skin injuries can help prevent psoriasis flare-ups. Take extra care when handling sharp objects and avoid dangerous sports and activities as much as possible.
- Don’t stress. Stress is a major trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. Try to avoid putting yourself in stressful situations and make time to unwind and relax.
- Eat foods that reduce inflammation. Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains.
- Speak to your doctor. Certain medications may trigger psoriasis flares, so do visit your doctor to check if there are medications that you should avoid.
Please visit the doctors at Osler Health to discuss your psoriasis and skin needs.