What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious, skin condition in which skin cells grow too quickly, resulting in thick, white or red “plaques” of skin to form. Usually the skin cells grow gradually and flake off about every 4 weeks. As this occurs, new skin cells grow to replace the outer layers of skin as they shed. When an individual is afflicted with psoriasis, new skin cells move rapidly to the surface of the skin in days rather than weeks. This gives the appearance of the thick skin “plaques.” Plaques range in size, and most often appear on the knees, elbows, scalp, hands, feet, and lower back. Psoriasis can sometimes spread and lead to inflammation of the joints, which is referred to as psoriatic arthritis. 10-15% of people with psoriasis have psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis is most common in adults, but can affect children as well.
The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, but most doctors believe it occurs when the immune system overacts, causing inflammation and flaking of the skin.
There is currently no known cure for psoriasis. However, there are many available treatment options. Dr. Poulos will help you determine which method is best for you. Treatment aims to slow the rapid growth of skin cells and reduce inflammation.
- Topical Medication:
Treatment for mild psoriasis, or only a few plaques, is usually treated with creams, ointments and lotions. Mild psoriasis of the scalp can be treated with shampoos and oils. These topical medications might include vitamin D compounds, corticosteroids, anthralin or retinoids.
Another availably treatment for psoriasis is phototherapy. During phototherapy, the affected areas are briefly exposed to intense ultraviolet A or B light (UVA, UVB). UVB treatment is completed 2 to 3 times a week, and when used in combination with medicine such as calcipotriene, is quite effective. Psoralen and UVA light therapy (PUVA) combines exposure to a chamber of UVA light with medication called psoralen to treat psoriasis. There are risks and benefits to each and Dr. Poulos will discuss the options.
- Oral Medication:
When topical medications and phototherapy do not effectively treat moderate to severe psoriasis, oral (by mouth) medication may be prescribed. These drugs can have side effects, such as weakening the immune system, which is why they are generally reserved for more severe cases.
Biologics are medications similar to the proteins made by the body. They block the harmful response of the body’s immune system that causes psoriasis. Biologics are an option for patients who cannot use other treatments. Dr. Poulos will help determine if this is an option for your psoriasis.
There is no way to prevent psoriasis, but you may be able to reduce flare-ups and improve symptoms by abiding by the following guidelines:
- Try to minimize your stress level. Stress can make psoriasis worse.
- Avoid scratching or picking your skin.
- Have infections treated promptly. Example: Strep throat in particular can cause psoriasis to appear suddenly, especially in children.
- Limit alcohol intake, and do not smoke.