Family Health Diary

Normal skin cells begin deep within the skin. They slowly rise to the surface where they die and fall off. This whole process takes about a month for normal skin cells. For people with psoriasis this process happens much more quickly. It may only take a few days for the skin cells to rise to the surface. This means they don’t have time to mature or to die and fall off before more and more skin cells appear underneath them.

For people with psoriasis, these immature skin cells build up on the surface of the skin like whitish-silver scales. There is often inflammation around the scales so they appear as red patches with silvery scales that have well defined, definite edges. Sometimes the patches crack and bleed.

Psoriasis is usually only mildly itchy, but for people for whom it is very itchy, the skin can become thickened in that area.

Areas of psoriasis are most common on the scalp, elbows and knees, though any part of the skin can be affected. If the scaly areas are not treated they usually stay there for a long time.

This condition varies over time. Most people find they have some times where the psoriasis is not a problem for them and then it flares up again.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions are where the immune system is malfunctioning. In psoriasis this malfunction causes the body to produce too many skin cells.

About one third of all people with psoriasis have family members who also have psoriasis, so it does run in families.  It can be associated with arthritis; and both arthritis and psoriasis are types of autoimmune conditions.

While there is no known cause for psoriasis some things can set off psoriasis or cause a flare up of the condition.

  • Ongoing stress or a sudden severe shock
  • Bad sunburn or other skin damage
  • Infections
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Hormonal changes

Psoriasis is not contagious; this means you can’t catch it from someone else. While there is no ‘cure’ for psoriasis there are treatments available that can be effective at keeping it under control.

There are a number of treatments that your doctor might prescribe depending on how severe your psoriasis is and what best suits you. There are creams or gels that contain a steroid or a vitamin A derivative. There are creams containing salicylic acid or coal tar. There are a number of specialised psoriasis treatments that come as creams that might block the over production of skin cells for some people.

Another option is light therapy. Light therapy is often used for moderate to severe psoriasis either alone or in combination with creams. Brief daily exposure to normal sunlight might help; otherwise your doctor may prescribe regular UV exposure using artificial light of specialised wavelengths.

If neither of the above has worked then your doctor may prescribe tablets or injections for you to get the psoriasis under control.

The medicines or creams prescribed for you aim to, reduce skin inflammation, slow how quickly the skin cells grow and also to remove the build-up of scales on the skin. Sometimes your doctor may recommend a combination of different medicines to achieve the best result for you.

When the psoriasis scaly areas go away you can be left with a brown or pale mark on the skin. This will usually go away over the next few months.

So while psoriasis can be upsetting to start with, there are effective treatments available that will help you keep it at bay. If you find that you always get an outbreak of psoriasis when you are stressed, you can take steps to reduce your stress levels. This will be better for your overall health as well as reduce the chance of a psoriasis outbreak. Remember alcohol is not good for stress or sleep. Alcohol has also been shown to be a factor in setting off psoriasis; so it is best to avoid alcohol when you are stressed.

All the usual advice for staying healthy applies for psoriasis as well. Do something every day that makes you happy, plus half to one hour of exercise every day, four different vegetables and two pieces of fruit per day and drink one and a half to two litres of water per day.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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