Psoriasis is a skin disease that occurs when a person’s immune system mistakes healthy skin cells for a pathogen and sends out incorrect signals that cause overproduction of new skin cells. In the mildest of cases, this can lead to a reddening of the skin and skin irritation. It is a very common condition and can affect anybody.
Most commonly the onset of psoriasis occurs between ages 15-35. While not contagious it has been linked to increased risk of stroke. Usually skin cells grow deep within the skin, rising to the surface about once a month. For sufferers of psoriasis this process is accelerated and dead skin cells build up on the surface of the skin.
Medically there are five distinct forms of psoriasis: plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular, and erythrodermic. Most commonly, psoriasis transforms skin into red and white hued scaly patches that appear on the outer layers of the skin. The name is derived from the Greek language and translates roughly as “itchy condition”.
In cases of plaque psoriasis, skin rapidly grows at the affected sites, giving it a silvery-white appearance. This most often occurs on the skin or elbows and knees but can affect any area including the scalp, palms or soles of feet. This skin disorder is a chronic and recurring condition, varying in severity from localised patches to complete body coverage.
Psoriasis can also be responsible for inflamed joints – a condition known as psoriatic arthritis. The reasons why one person may succumb to psoriasis while others do not are not fully understood, though it is assumed that the cause is partly genetic and localised attacks can be triggered by injury to the skin. Environmental conditions can also aggravate the condition, as can stress, excess alcohol and dry air.
The differing types of psoriasis have differing methods of treatment. In many cases topical agents and eczema creams are used to treat mild attacks, phototherapy to tackle moderate symptoms and systemic agents for severe psoriasis.
Bath solutions like Epsom salts, moisturizers and mineral and petroleum jelly are all used to treat the affected skin and reduce the build-up of psoriatic plaques. Psoriasis creams and ointments are also available to apply directly to affected areas to reduce inflammation, remove the build-up of scales and clear away plaques of skin.
Various types of phototherapy – most commonly sunlight replacement therapy – have been shown to be effective in the treatment of psoriasis. Most effective are light wavelengths between 311nm and 313nm, and special lamps are available that have been developed to provide relief to sufferers. This treatment can be effective in dealing with middling-serious cases of psoriasis, but overexposure should be avoided as this can burn the skin
In severe cases of psoriasis, systemic agents are available that can aggressively target the disease. Such treatment, however, is highly toxic and patients must undertake regular blood and liver function tests to ensure that their organs are not being impaired.