If you have itchy skin, rashes, or other skin complaints you may wonder whether you have psoriasis. Psoriasis is becoming one of the most frequently diagnosed skin conditions with over 450 thousand Australians affected. It doesn’t have to rule your life but understanding the triggers and causes will help you manage your condition so it improves your quality of life.
So to help you understand a bit more about psoriasis lets start at the beginning; what is psoriasis?
The name psoriasis is given to a chronic autoimmune condition. The condition causes skin cells to build up rapidly, which can lead to visible scaling of the skin. Redness and inflammation are extremely common, along with dry skin and irritation. Sometimes the patches of scales can bleed as they crack.
A growth of skin cells is common and a natural part of life. However, in healthy people, the skin cells will drop off (or can be exfoliated off) allowing space for new ones to grow and appear. Those skin cells will eventually die and drop off and it’s a regular cycle. In someone with psoriasis, that isn’t what happens. The dead skin cells stick around, and the growths get worse as new skin cells appear.
Most of the time the skin cells will scale up around the elbows, knees, and other joints. However, they can appear anywhere on the body. The genitals, mouth, and nails are the least affected areas but sometimes they can be problematic.
Psoriasis is an extremely common condition. Around 450 thousand people in Australia alone suffer from a type of psoriasis. Often, the condition relates to another health issue and is linked to the compromised immune system.
There are different types of psoriasis to consider. The most common is plaque psoriasis, which affects around 80% of those diagnosed. It’s the one most commonly visible in the patches explained above.
In children, guttate psoriasis may form. This causes pink spots to appear on the skin, usually around the legs, arms, and torso. Most of the spots will sit on the same level of the skin, so don’t appear as scaly or raised.
Pustular psoriasis is something that can occur mostly in adulthood. The skin becomes red and inflamed and sometimes little pus-filled blisters will appear. This is usually on the hands and feet, but other parts of the body can be affected. Most of the time, you’ll see the pus blisters appear in localized areas frequently, rather than spread to various areas of the body.
If the condition appears around the breasts, under the armpits, or around the groin there is a chance that you have what’s known as inverse psoriasis. The skin becomes inflamed and red, with a shiny texture to it.
Finally, erythrodermic psoriasis may occur. This is the rarest type of the condition and gives the skin an appearance of being sunburned. You can often find the scales drop off into your sheets and a fever or other illness is extremely common when suffering from it. Large sections of the body are affected at the same time, making it problematic and extremely irritating.
While the scaly skin can look unsightly, there is the good news that this isn’t contagious. If your friends or family look horrified and worry, just let them know that coming into contact with you isn’t going to affect them at all. It’s not a viral or bacterial infection, but an immune condition.
The symptoms don’t take a one size fits all approach. However, there are certain symptoms that are more common than others.
Most of the time, a person will see some reddish skin that’s inflamed. This is usually in patches on the body, depending on the type of psoriasis. There may be silvery white patches of skin within the red, usually with the appearance of scales in the skin. Sometimes these patches will start to crack, and bleeding is common.
The skin is often extremely dry. Therefore, the patches start to crack. We’ll get into how you can prevent this soon. Because of the dryness, though, it is possible to have soreness in the area.
Some people will also experience itchiness, irritation, or a burning sensation. Since it’s around the joint area in most cases, the joints can also become affected.
However, not everyone will get symptoms of the condition. Because it’s an autoimmune condition, it can sometimes go into remission. People get cycles of the symptoms now and then. Depending on various factors, those relapses may be minor, but they can also be severe where they continue for a few weeks and then just disappear as if nothing happened!
How is it caused?
As with any condition, one of the big questions is the reason for the condition to occur. Why do we get it and why is this something that’s becoming increasingly common in both children and adults?
Because it’s an autoimmune condition, the immune system certainly plays a part. Autoimmune conditions are when the body starts attacking itself, believing something within itself is an infection. The T-cells start to attack the skin cells, believing them to be dangerous. This then causes the skin cell’s production to increase to survive the attack. Of course, the other skin cells aren’t damaged, or they don’t drop off, leading to more new cells that are necessary and the patches to appear. All the cells are pushed up from the skin, turning into piles of scales.
Research also shows that genetics can play a part. Those with family members who already have a skin condition are more likely to develop psoriasis. However, a genetic predisposition isn’t needed. Only 2-3% of people with the condition have a genetic predisposition!
As mentioned, this is a condition that goes in cycles. It’s possible to go weeks or months without a flare-up. Then suddenly the body starts to attack the white cells again. The flare-ups occur usually because of triggers.
Stress is one of the most common triggers for all autoimmune conditions. When we’re stressed, our bodies start to release adrenaline and other hormones that can cause the immune system to react. The body goes into a “fight or flight” mode, including the immune system. It starts attacking the threats to help handle a situation. This leads to the flare-up within the skin cells.
Alcohol is another potential trigger, especially overconsumption of alcohol. Those who drink heavily or binge drink at weekends are more likely to see recurring cycles of symptoms. Smoking is another considered trigger.
However, sometimes there’s little you can do. Medications are known for causing psoriasis symptoms because of the way they affect the immune system. This is especially the case for those on high blood pressure medication, lithium, and antimalarial medication.
Infections and injuries can also lead to the condition. Getting sunburn, cutting, or scraping the skin, or even getting vaccines can lead to an outbreak. In all cases, the immune system must go into action and that leads to attacking the skin cells, even if they’re not suffering a problem.