Plaque Psoriasis, the most common form, is a skin condition that can range in intensity from mild cases that are not much more than a nuisance to more severe cases that sometimes affect the nails, scalp and joints as well as the skin. It is characterized by red patches of skin covered by silvery scales. These patches can sometimes be accompanied by itching and burning sensations but more often than not they are nothing more than an embarrassment thanks to their appearance.
In cases where the nails are affected, there can be severe pitting of the nails and in some cases the nails can become loosened and even crumble. When the joints are affected, that is commonly known as psoriatic arthritis and it can have some of the same swelling, stiffness and aching of traditional arthritis.
The condition can affect individuals of any age and generally tends to run in families. In fact, nearly 40% of cases can be traced to a genetic predisposition.
What causes plaque psoriasis?
The cause of psoriasis is unknown. In plaque psoriasis, areas of the skin grow much faster than normal and form red, scaling patches. The scalp, elbows, and knees are the most common sites; however any part of the skin may become involved.
Psoriasis is a problem only because it itches and is unsightly; fortunately it is not contagious. If the skin is traumatized, psoriasis can form in the affected area. The unusual skin growth that is the basis of this condition is related to immune system deficiencies, though doctors are unsure of what causes these underlying deficiencies in the first place.
Because of this connection, however, psoriasis tends to be more common among individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those who experience frequent viral infections or individuals with HIV.
Psoriasis Treatment Options Are Numerous
Treatment is temporarily effective, and may need to be continued for quite a while, but there is no magic cure for psoriasis. If you have psoriasis of the scalp, it helps to wash your hair often. Moderate sunlight exposure of the scalp is often helpful.
Light therapy is one of the most popular and effective forms of treatment for psoriasis. Though it can help, sunlight causes aging of the skin and skin cancer, so you need to limit sunlight exposure.
Artificial ultraviolet light (phototherapy) helps and is even more effective when used with tar or anthralin. There are two types of phototherapy: PUVA and UVB phototherapy. Both can help to ease symptoms by improving immune system function and slowing skin cell turnover.
Psoriasis causes the skin to lose water to the environment, so you must lubricate the areas of psoriasis with liberal amounts of Vaseline or other moisturizers.
Salicylic acid is used to dissolve the scales in psoriasis so that other medicines can penetrate the skin.
Mild psoriasis can be treated effectively with cortisone ointments. Severe psoriasis can be treated with methotrexate. Use of the drug can cause liver damage, so patients on methotrexate must receive a liver biopsy every year. Anthralin is an effective treatment for many cases of psoriasis.
Dovonex (Vitamin D) ointment is another safe and effective treatment for psoriasis. It is very expensive but is covered by most prescription plans. Dovonex is usually used in combination with other treatments.
People with psoriasis should not take Prednisone or other steroids by mouth. Nor should patients with psoriasis have shots of cortisone. These medicines temporarily improve psoriasis but when stopped can lead to severe flares of this condition.
For more information you can visit the National Psoriasis Foundation.