Psoriasis vs. Eczema…What’s the Difference Between the Two?

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Psoriasis vs. EczemaComparing psoriasis vs. eczema is a complicated prospect, as the two conditions have many similar characteristics. What is certain is that both can leave the sufferer feeling miserable and embarrassed by patches of red, raised, irritated skin.

Though there are a variety of treatments for each condition, it can be impossible to know which avenue to follow without a proper diagnosis from your doctor. Even doctors can sometimes have difficulty clearly distinguishing between the two, but there are some signs which can point them in the right direction.

How Are Psoriasis and Eczema Similar?

There are several similarities between psoriasis and eczema, which is what makes it so hard to differentiate between the two. The similarities have to do with the appearance of each condition.

Both can cause the skin to become red, scaly, irritated and itchy. Outbreaks can occur on similar parts of the body as well, including the elbows and knees, as well as the face, buttocks or scalp. Both cause itching, although the severity of itching will be much greater with eczema.

Finally, while both look nasty, they are not dangerous to others. This has been a particular concern around psoriasis, as it originates within the body rather than from contact, leading many to wonder is psoriasis contagious? The answer, however, is no.

How Are Psoriasis and Eczema Different?

While they may share similar symptoms, there are some distinct differences between psoriasis vs. eczema. Again, the itching caused by eczema is usually much more severe than that of psoriasis and it is usually worse at night. It can become so intense that sufferers will scratch the affected areas until they bleed.

Another major difference is the age at which each condition generally strikes. Eczema is most common among babies and children and usually subsides by age 5 or 6. It can also occur in adulthood, but usually only in individuals who are going through puberty or experiencing severe hormonal shifts.

Psoriasis, on the other hand, typically develops between the ages of 15 and 35 and rarely occurs in children. Psoriasis may also cause joint stiffness and may affect the nails.   In order to differentiate between the two, it’s important to understand what each is all about.

Do I Have Psoriasis?

Psoriasis occurs when a person’s immune system affects the growth of skin cells. Usually, skin cells grow and die and are sloughed off to make room for new cells. With psoriasis, the skin cells grow faster than usual and build up on the skin rather than flaking off. The result is grayish, raised patches of skin that can be hard to the touch and mildly itchy.   So is psoriasis contagious? That’s a question that many sufferers ask but psoriasis can not be spread from one individual to another.

While the primary cause of psoriasis is immune system malfunction, there are other factors which can contribute to outbreaks, including infections, cold weather, excess alcohol consumption and smoking, stress and taking certain medications such as high blood pressure medications and lithium.

This is another deciding factor in the comparison of psoriasis vs. eczema, as the latter is not necessarily affected by these factors. There are five basic types of psoriasis: plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular, erythrodermic and psoriatic arthritis. All exhibit red, scaly patches of skin, itching and joint stiffness and swelling and none are contagious. Treatment for psoriasis can vary depending on type.

Plaque and Guttate Psoriasis

The two most common types are plaque and guttate, accounting for nearly 90% of all cases.

Treatment of plaque psoriasis usually involves moisturizing to keep the skin from becoming too irritated. A corticosteroid cream or ointment-based moisturizer can also help to control itching. Vitamin D creams, topical retinoids, coal tar and medications such as tazarotene may also be used, as can light treatment with UVA and UVB rays.

Guttate psoriasis generally happens in young adulthood and can be triggered by stress, a skin injury, an infection like strep throat or medication. It presents as small, drop shaped spots on the torso and limbs, but can also appear on the scalp and face. Treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause of infection.

Inverse Psoriasis

Inverse psoriasis occurs in the folds of the skin, such as the area under a woman’s breasts and presents as red patches of skin that are shiny or smooth, making it easily misdiagnosed as a yeast or fungal infection. It can be treated the same as plaque psoriasis.

Pustular Psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis is a more severe form of the condition, presenting as many tiny white pustules surrounded by red skin. The pustules may appear on the hands and feet but can spread to cover most of the skin’s surface. This is the type that most commonly causes people to ask is psoriasis contagious? While it is not contagious, it can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, rapid pulse, muscle weakness and loss of appetite. Treatment depends on the size of the affected area. Smaller patches can be treated with corticosteroid creams while larger patches may require the use of oral medications and light therapy.

Psoriatic Arthritis

Almost one third of all psoriasis sufferers also develop psoriatric arthritis, a painful, physically limiting condition that affects the joints. It occurs when the same autoimmune deficiency that triggers the skin symptoms begins to affect the joints, particularly the hands. Skin symptoms usually present before joint symptoms. NSAIDs and prescription anti-inflammatories such as prednisone may help to reduce inflammation but there is no cure for PA.

Erythrodermic Psoriasis

In the comparison of psoriasis vs. eczema, erythrodermic psoriasis is one of the more unique forms that stands out for easy identification. In this rare form, also called exfoliative psoriasis, the affected patches may look like severe burns and can cover widespread areas of the body. This is a rare form of the condition but can be quite serious and may be considered a medical emergency.

It can be triggered by a number of causes including a pustular psoriasis outbreak, sunburn, widespread and badly controlled plaque psoriasis, infection, alcoholism, severe stress, and abrupt discontinuation of psoriasis medication. Hospital treatment is required for EP, including the application of wet dressings, topical steroids and prescription oral medications.

Are There Natural Treatments For Psoriasis?

While corticosteroid creams and light therapy are the primary treatments for psoriasis, some sufferers have found relief through natural treatments. Some of the most effective include aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, capsaicin, dead sea salts, oats, tea tree oil, and turmeric. Each of these has soothing, moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties that can help to ease the symptoms of psoriasis.

Do I Have Eczema?

In the discussion of psoriasis vs. eczema, chances are that the majority of diagnoses will lean toward eczema, which is quite common. Eczema is usually a reaction to an irritant that comes in contact with the skin. Other causes of eczema can include environmental factors, bacteria, allergens, and family history. While all forms of eczema present with dry, scaly skin, redness and itching which may become intense, symptoms can vary depending on the specific form of the condition. In general, eczema doesn’t require medical attention unless it doesn’t go away on its own.

There are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, hand eczema, neurodermatitis, nummular eczema and stasis dermatitis.   Atopic dermatitis, which usually occurs in conjunction with other allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever, is the most common form of eczema. Contact dermatitis is similar but occurs when the skin comes in contact with an irritant. Dyshidrotic eczema affects the hands and feet and mostly occurs in women, while hand eczema is isolated to the hands and usually occurs as the result of regularly handling harsh chemicals.

Neurodermatitis is related to atopic dermatitis and usually occurs in people who have another form of eczema or psoriasis, which can further blur the distinction between psoriasis vs. eczema. Nummular eczema causes round, coin-sized spots to appear on the skin. It can be triggered by an insect bite or contact with an allergen or chemical substance. Finally, stasis dermatitis occurs when fluid leaks out of weakened veins into the skin, resulting in swelling of the lower legs, achy or heavy feeling in the legs, and varicose veins. It generally occurs in individuals who have poor circulation in their lower legs.

Treatment for Eczema

Eczema can be difficult to treat as it often comes and goes. Treatment options can include the use of antihistamines, corticosteroid cream or ointment to ease itching, antibiotics to fight infection, light therapy to help heal rash and cool compresses applied to the skin to soothe irritation. It is also important to identify the specific allergen that triggered your symptoms so that you can avoid it.

Aside from over the counter and prescription medications, some natural remedies may be used to help fight infection, ease itching, and soothe and moisturize the skin. These can include coconut and sunflower oil, cardiospermum and topical vitamin B12. Some people have also had positive results using various techniques such as hypnosis, meditation, acupuncture and massage, designed to calm the mind and release stress, which can contribute to symptoms.

Could I Have Both At Once?

One of the most intriguing questions regarding psoriasis vs. eczema is whether it is possible to have both at once. While this happens very rarely, a scientific study published in Scientific Translational Medicine, has shown that it is indeed possible. The positive part of these findings is that different gene types present in each condition may make it easier for doctors to eventually distinguish between the two.

What Do I Do If I Have A Skin Condition?

The bottom line when it comes to these two conditions is that effective treatment depends on an accurate diagnosis and that can only come from your doctor. Though eczema may come and go on its own, psoriasis is more serious so if you have any question about which condition you have, you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.