Psoriasis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Psoriasis is a common non-contagious skin condition that affects between 2% to 3% of the UK population and results in red and flaky patches of skin with silvery scales. Although psoriasis can appear anywhere on the body it usually affects the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back. The severity varies from person to person, for some people it is nothing more than a few localised patches which cause minor irritation, for others, it can involve complete body coverage which can have a major impact on quality of life. There are many lifestyle and dietary changes which can help to improve the condition.
Types of Psoriasis
- Plaque psoriasis, aka psoriasis vulgaris: This is the most common form of the condition, and appears as raised, red patches on the skin, covered with silvery looking scales, which are actually a build-up of dead skin cells.
- Guttate psoriasis: This usually begins in childhood or young adulthood, and is the second most common type of psoriasis. It looks like small, salmon-pink coloured drops on the skin and is usually triggered by a bacterial infection or stress.
- Inverse psoriasis: Also known as flexural psoriasis, this presents as vividly red, shiny and smooth lesions in body folds around the armpits, groin and breasts. Inverse psoriasis is more common in mature or overweight adults.
- Pustular psoriasis: This rare form of psoriasis causes raised bumps filled with a white, thick fluid composed of white blood cells. This form of psoriasis requires immediate medical care because it can be life-threatening.
As with many conditions, the symptoms and signs can vary from one person to another, but they usually involve one or more of the following:
- Dry, red, skin lesions, which are known as plaques
- Silvery, scaly looking skin on top of the plaques which flakes off
- Skin may be itchy, tender, and sore
- Skin may become cracked, and bleed
- Very red, smooth, and shiny patches of skin in the body’s folds
- White pustules on the skin
- Thickened, pitted or ridged nails.
Causes of Psoriasis
Psoriasis occurs when the body’s skin cell producing process is accelerated. Skin cells are normally replaced every 3-4 weeks, but in psoriasis, this process only takes 5 to 7 days. Skin cells build up and this is what creates the red, scaly patches associated with psoriasis. It is not fully understood what causes psoriasis, but it is thought to be a genetic disease that is triggered or influenced by environmental factors. Triggers can include:
- Family history: If a member of your immediate family members has psoriasis you are at increased risk.
- Cold dry weather: Cold weather damages the skin protective barrier and causes it to become dry, which worsen psoriasis symptoms.
- Stress: Prolonged feelings of stress can trigger flare-ups and ... Not only can psoriasis cause stress, but flare-ups can occur during stressful times.
- Medications: Certain prescription drugs, such as those used to treat bipolar disorder and high blood pressure, can trigger flare-ups.
- Alcohol and smoking: The chemicals in cigarettes and alcohol both increase the chance of flare-ups.
- Trauma: damage to the skin can trigger a flare-up. Common causes include cuts, bruises, burns, vaccinations and tattoos.
Complications of Psoriasis
Psoriasis is closely associated with several other conditions. the relationship between them is not fully understood, so it is not clear which causes the other. Some common conditions include:
- Psoriatic arthritis: This type of arthritis is diagnosed in 10% to 30% of psoriasis sufferers, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 50. Psoriatic arthritis affects the joints and soft tissue, making them inflamed and stiff.
- Eye conditions: Stats shoes that eye conditions such as uveitis, blepharitis and conjunctivitis are more common in people with psoriasis.
- Depression: Approximately 1 in 4 people with psoriasis are affected by depression. Psoriasis can cause considerable emotional distress for some people and can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation and feelings of depression.
- Other conditions include heart disease, metabolic syndrome, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.
Self-Care for Psoriasis
If the symptoms are relatively mild, then psoriasis can generally be kept under control by treating it at home.
- Moisturise: Dry skin causes irritation, which triggers a vicious cycle of scratching and new patches of irritated skin. Use thick ointments and creams to keep the skin moist and stop it drying out.
- Avoid hot water: Hot baths and showers can further dry the skin, leading to irritation. Try having lukewarm baths and showers, patting the skin dry rather than rubbing, and add an emollient to the water, such as mineral oil or oatmeal to soften the skin.
- Use a humidifier: Air conditioning and central heating systems make the air dry, which can cause itchy dry skin. Using a humidifier in the home or office will help to keep the air moist and prevent dry skin.
- No perfumes: Avoid using too many different products on the skin to prevent irritation. so try using unscented soaps and bathing products. Choose shower gels and shampoos labelled as ‘suitable for sensitive skin’. When using a new product for the first time, test it on a small area of unaffected skin first in case it causes a flare-up.
- Quit smoking: People who smoke half a pack of cigarettes a day are twice as likely to have severe psoriasis as those who don’t smoke. Psoriasis is also more common in people who drink heavily so make an effort to cut down on alcohol.
- Avoid stress: It is natural to feel some stress at times, but frequent high levels of stress can exacerbate symptoms of psoriasis. Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises to help keep calm.
Foods for Psoriasis
Some people find that flare-ups are triggered by certain foods. Unfortunately, everyone has different food triggers, so the best thing is to try cutting out certain foods and see if it has a positive effect. Other foods can help lessen symptoms and reduce flare-ups of psoriasis. some are more common than others.
Foods to Avoid:
- Junk foods tend to be high in saturated and trans fats, sugar and refined starches, which promote inflammation. Also, people with psoriasis are at a higher risk of heart and vascular disease, so avoiding fattening foods is preferable to reduce further risk.
- Fatty, red meat has been linked to inflammation in the body. Try going for leaner cuts of red meat, or choosing chicken or fish instead.
- Nightshades. These are alkaloid foods such as tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and white potatoes, which some people find can worsen skin problems such as psoriasis.
- Citrus fruits are quite common allergens, and many people are slightly allergic to citrus fruits without even realising it.
- Dairy products. Some people find that cutting out milk-based products eases their symptoms. Scientists and doctors have not found a reason for this yet, but it’s worth going without dairy for a period of time to see if it helps.
- Gluten. Some researchers believe that people with gluten intolerance are more likely to have psoriasis. Cut gluten-containing foods from your diet if you feel they have a negative effect, or ask your doctor for a gluten intolerance screening.
Foods to Eat:
- Omega 3 containing oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are thought to help by reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.
- Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, squash, raspberries and blueberries are naturally high in antioxidants that can help control inflammation.
- Watermelon and mango are rich in vitamin A, which helps to promote healthy skin.
- Wholegrain foods like wholemeal bread, brown rice and oatmeal are all high in fibre, which is associated with decreased inflammation levels.
- Beans and lentils are good sources of protein, as well as containing high levels of antioxidants and fibre.
Natural Remedies for Psoriasis
Gel from the aloe plant can be applied to the skin to help reduce redness and scaling, as well as soothing irritated skin.
Apple Cider Vinegar
This may help relieve itchy skin and scalp when mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio and applied to the affected areas. Do not use this on broken skin as it will sting.
Omega 3 Supplements
Omega 3's can help by reducing inflammation, and some people have found that applying the contents of a fish oil capsule to the skin has a beneficial effect.
Tea Tree Oil
This oil has natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and many people find it helpful for relieving psoriasis on the scalp when added to shampoo.