Psoriasis is a common skin condition that affects more than 8 million Americans. It can affect anyone, but it usually develops between the ages of 15 and 35. The most common type of psoriasis, plaque psoriasis, is characterized by flare-ups that are followed by periods of remission. Plaque psoriasis is a lifelong condition with no cure, but there are plenty of things people living with psoriasis can do to relieve their discomfort.
The Different Types of Psoriasis and Their Symptoms
There are five types of psoriasis:
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of the condition. It usually affects the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp. The symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:
- Raised red patches that are surrounded by a buildup of dead skin cells (which look white or silver).
- Very dry skin that flakes.
- Soreness, itching, and pain around the rashes.
- Pitting of the fingernails and other nail-related problems.
- Joint pain and stiffness.
- Cycle of flare-ups and asymptomatic periods.
Guttate psoriasis usually develops in childhood and is often a result of a strep infection. It’s the second most common type of psoriasis, and about 10% of people who have psoriasis have guttate psoriasis. Symptoms include:
- Small, round, raised spots that are usually found on the limbs and torso. These spots are sometimes (but rarely) found on the face, scalp, and ears.
- Fading within three months, but in some cases, it lasts longer.
Inverse psoriasis is unique in that it only affects the folds of the body - the underarms, backs of the knees, inner elbows, under breast area, or groin. It’s a lifelong condition that’s rare, affecting 3-7% of people. Inverse psoriasis is characterized by:
- Sore red spots in the skin folds than can progress to lesions.
- Discomfort and burning around areas of skin that touch other areas of skin.
- Constant or near-constant signs of the condition with no periods of remission.
Pustular psoriasis is another rare type of psoriasis. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it usually affects the hands or feet. Occasionally, people with plaque psoriasis develop pustular psoriasis at some point in their lives. Pustular psoriasis is associated with:
- White, pus-filled blisters.
- Hot, tender skin.
- A general feeling of being unwell and symptoms that mimic the flu, like chills, fever, and headache.
A severe form of the condition, erythrodermic psoriasis, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. It most commonly affects people with poorly-managed plaque psoriasis and is characterized by:
- A widespread, burning, red rash that covers most of the body.
- Severe pain.
- Large patches of dry skin that flake off in sheets.
Psoriasis flare-ups: What Causes Them and How to Prevent Them
Psoriasis is a complicated condition to manage because the flare-ups vary from person to person. One psoriasis patients’ worst trigger may have no effect on another patient. Some of the most common triggers include:
- Winter, and its characteristic cold, dry weather. If you live in a part of the country where winters are especially cold and dry, you might find relief by taking a mid-winter vacation to a warm, humid place. (A great excuse to book that tropical holiday you’ve been dreaming about!)
- Stress and anxiety trigger all sorts of negative processes in your body. Psoriasis is caused by an immune system issue, and stress can mess with that system. Employ some stress management techniques, like meditation.
- Skin injuries, even those as minor as a paper cut or bug bite, can escalate psoriasis symptoms. Avoid risky situations, and wear gloves when you’re engaging in activities that carry a high risk for skin injuries, like yard work.
- Alcohol consumption can worsen psoriasis, and it can also interfere with psoriasis treatments. Some psoriasis medications react very poorly with alcohol, so if you’re taking medication for the condition, check in with your doctor before you consume alcohol.
- Smoking boosts a person’s chances of developing psoriasis, and it makes psoriasis symptoms worse.
Getting a Diagnosis
In most cases, a doctor can diagnose psoriasis after a quick visual examination of the affected area. If you have symptoms that suit a diagnosis of psoriasis, your doctor may conduct more thorough testing, like a biopsy or blood test. These tests can help the doctor identify what type of psoriasis you have, and it can help them rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms.
Medical Treatments and Remedies for Psoriasis
Topical medications are commonly used to treat mild to moderate psoriasis. These medications aim to alleviate the discomfort associated with the condition.
People who have moderate to severe psoriasis, or people who haven’t responded well to topical medications, can opt for systemic medications that are delivered orally or through injections. Unlike topical medications, systemic medications work from the inside out - they alter the immune system or the skin’s properties to help the body deal with the condition more effectively.
A natural medical treatment called light therapy utilizes UV light destroys the abnormal white blood cells that overtake healthy cells to create the scales and patches that are typical in people with psoriasis. Light therapy is administered by a medical professional.
Natural Remedies for Psoriasis
The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends supplementing medical treatment with the following natural remedies:
Dead Sea Salts
The Dead Sea is a saltwater lake nestled between Israel and Jordan. Dead Sea salts contain 21 different minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and bromine. When added to a warm bath, Dead Sea salts can alleviate psoriasis-related discomfort by softening dry, scaly skin, and encouraging it to flake off.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a natural oil that’s believed to have antiseptic properties. Some people report that tea tree lotions and shampoos relieve itching. Tea tree oil sparks an allergic reaction in some people, though, so do a spot test before you use it on or near the affected areas.
Aloe vera is well-known for the relief it provides to sunburned skin. This property can help psoriasis sufferers, too. Aloe vera lotions are available at most pharmacies.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (preferably organic) can relieve scalp itchiness. Mix the apple cider vinegar with equal parts water and use it like you’d use shampoo in the shower.
Research on the therapeutic benefits of turmeric for people with psoriasis is promising. A component of turmeric seems to alter gene expression to reduce the severity of flare-ups.
Natural Remedies that Don’t Work for Psoriasis
These psoriasis remedies haven’t proven effective and can do more harm than good.
Some sources report drinking or applying urine to fight chronic diseases, like psoriasis. Urine therapy isn’t sanitary or safe, and it’s not accepted by the medical community as a treatment for anything.
Some people mistakenly believe that tanning sessions can replace light therapy. Tanning beds emit dangerous, wide-band UV light. In light therapy, dermatologists use narrow-band UVB light that’s safe and therapeutic.
Anything that Claims to “Cure” Plaque Psoriasis
Beware of any treatment that seems too good to be true. Data and reviews can be falsified. Ask your doctor for advice before you try any type of treatment or remedy for psoriasis.