Psoriasis is a chronic condition which affects the skin and joints, and it is classified as a non-contagious autoimmune disease. Psoriasis is best characterized by rapidly growing cells which accumulate on the surface of the skin and it can at times subside and go into remission while at other times it worsens with the passing of time.
Psoriasis is a rather common disease and it most frequently appears at the elbows and knees but it can also appear anywhere else on the body, including the scalp and the genitals as well as the nails of fingers and toes which is known as psoriatic nail dystrophy. In approximately fifteen percent of the psoriatic cases, the disease leads to inflammations in the joints which is known as psoriatic arthritis.
Although psoriasis is counted among the oldest known diseases as it is believed to be mentioned in the Bible as tzaraat, its causes are still not known. It is, however, suspected that genetic factors are quite probably, and it evidently intensifies at times of stress as well as due to heavy alcohol consumption and smoking.
The Various Types of Psoriasis and the Symptoms
The symptoms of psoriasis vary from one person to the other and from one type of psoriasis to the next. Some experience psoriasis as an annoyance while others are virtually disabled.
- Plaque Psoriasis (Psoriasis Vulgaris). Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of the disease as it appears in about 85 percent of psoriasis patients. It emerges as bulky scales, silvery white in color and surrounded by dry, red and inflamed patches which are known as psoriatic plaques. Plaque psoriasis is accompanied by severe itching and burning sensations.
- Flexural Psoriasis (Inverse Psoriasis). Flexural Psoriasis is most commonly found in the folds of skin such as in the genital areas between the thighs and the groin, in armpits, under low-hanging stomachs of overweight people (a.k.a. pannus), under breasts (a.k.a. inframammary folds). It appears as smooth inflamed areas of skin and is exacerbated by sweat and rubbing of skin against skin or clothing against skin. Flexural Psoriasis is susceptible to fungal infections.
- Guttate Psoriasis. Guttate psoriasis seems to go hand-in-hand with streptococcal throat infections and it appears in groups of small rounded spots over large areas such as the back, chest, arms or the legs. Guttate psoriasis is extremely itchy.
- Pustular Psoriasis. Pustular psoriasis is most frequently seen in the hands and feet but it can appear elsewhere on the body. It looks like clusters of pimples filled with pustules (non-infectious pus) over tender and inflamed skin.
- Nail Psoriasis. Nail psoriasis lead to deformation and discoloration of finger and toe nails as well as the skin underneath them. Nails thicken and become ridged or pitted.
- Psoriatic Arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis leads to inflammation of joints and connective tissue which causes swelling and pain. It most commonly affects the joints of fingers and toes but it can affect any other joints such as the hips, knees, elbows and the spine as well.
- Scalp Psoriasis. Scalp psoriasis appears as red, itchy areas with silvery-white scales that cause flaking of dead skin much like dandruff.
- Erythrodermic Psoriasis. Erythrodermic psoriasis tends to involve the skin of most of the body as it causes inflammations and exfoliation which are usually accompanied by extreme itching, swelling and pain. Erythrodermic psoriasis prevents the body from regulating temperature and the skin fails to perform its intended shielding function which can lead to death.
There are no known cures for psoriasis. However, a variety of prescribed topical creams, ointments and oils (to flush out the dead skin, moisturize the dryness, reduce inflammation and sooth the itching and burning) are available and they include cortisone, vitamin D analogues, anthralin, acne medications, salicylic acid and coal tar.
Light therapy (phototherapy) has proven to be effective for relieving some symptoms of psoriasis, and it involved measured amounts of exposure of the affected skin to either natural or artificial ultraviolet light: ultraviolet A (UVA) and/or ultraviolet B (UVB). Additional forms of light therapy include photochemotherapy or psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA), excimer laser, and combination light therapy.
For severe cases of psoriasis which do not respond to other treatments, several oral medications may be prescribed and those include retinoids, methotrexate and cyclosporine.
Suggested home remedies which have shown to be effective are: daily baths which avoid extremely hot water and harsh soaps but include bath oils, oatmeal, Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts; applying heavy moisturizers while the skin is still moist after the bath; and overnight covering of the affected area with a coat of heavy moisturizer and plastic wrapping.