Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that develops as the result of an overactive immune system. Normally, T-cells in the immune system function by attacking bacteria and viruses that lead to infection and harm the body. If you have psoriasis, T-cells mistakenly begin attacking healthy skin cells. This causes the life cycle of skin cell production to speed up and generate a surplus of new skin cells in a matter of days. The new cells build up on the surface of skin and form thick patches and scales that can be itchy, painful, or burning.
The most common symptom is the appearance of well-defined, raised red patches of skin covered with silvery scales. These thick skin lesions typically appear on knees, elbows, scalp, trunk, buttocks, and nails. However, the disorder can affect any area of skin on the body, including the genital region.
Under the broad name “psoriasis,” there are many different types:
- Plaque psoriasis is the most well-known form the skin condition takes. It is characterized by thick, raised red plaques that develop on the scalp, elbows, knees, and/or trunk. The plaques are often covered by dry, itchy silver-white scales.
- Nail psoriasis causes changes to the nails. Both fingernails and toenails can develop pitting, discolorations, and crumbling. Due to the build-up of skin cells under the nail, one or more nails can lift and become detached.
- Inverse psoriasis presents itself in places where skin-to-skin contact produces friction and sweating, such as the armpits, groin, and breasts. It looks like a red, flat, and inflamed rash that can be painful.
- Guttate psoriasis has lesions that are small, scaly, and appear as tiny red bumps that cover arms, legs, and/or trunk. Guttate psoriasis is seen most frequently in children who have had a bacterial infection like strep throat.
- Pustular psoriasis is characterized by red, tender, and swollen skin that contains pus-filled bumps. It typically develops on the hands and feet, which makes performing everyday tasks painful and difficult.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare, severe, and life-threatening form of psoriasis that requires immediate medical attention. A red, burnt-looking rash spreads over most of the body – it can be extremely itchy and painful. Chills, fever, and weakness accompany the rash. Common precursors to erythrodermic psoriasis include an existing diagnosis of psoriasis and/or psoriasis that is worsening or not responding to treatment.
One unfortunate complication of psoriasis is the development of psoriatic arthritis. If you have a severe case of psoriasis you run a greater risk of acquiring psoriatic arthritis, which affects the joints. Joints become painful, swollen, stiff, and inflamed. If left untreated, psoriatic arthritis can cause progressive joint damage, impair functionality and mobility, and become a debilitating condition. Treatment can make symptoms manageable and prevent the disease from worsening.
While the exact cause of psoriasis is still unknown, the immune system and genetics are major components in its development. One of the biggest risk factors is a family history of psoriasis. Generally, psoriasis first appears as a reaction to a trigger. Triggers can include infections, skin injuries (like cuts and scrapes), severe sunburns, cold and dry weather, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress. After the first occurrence, the conditions listed above can also set off psoriatic flare-ups, which is why it is important to know your specific triggers and avoid them.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition and cannot be cured, but it can be treated and managed when flare-ups occur. Typically, flare-ups come and go over the years and can last anywhere from days to weeks. Steroid creams, light therapy, and oral medications can help control inflammation and irritation from breakouts. At home, you can make lifestyle changes like managing stress, quitting smoking, avoiding triggers, and keeping skin well-hydrated to help prevent future flare-ups.
At Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers our licensed medical professionals are experts in diagnosing and treating hair, skin, and nail conditions. If you are experiencing symptoms of psoriasis and want an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, contact one of our ten convenient locations today to schedule a consultation.