Psoriasis: How to deal with the frustrating, flaky skin condition

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  • Plus where to get the help and support you need to manage your condition

    Psoriasis is an uncomfortable skin condition that can leave you feeling incredibly self-conscious and, according to the International Federation of Psoriasis Associations, an estimated 125 million people worldwide suffer from it.

    But you may not be 100% sure if you have it, or what exactly it is, so we asked consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk to answer the most common questions about psoriasis below.

    What is psoriasis?

    ‘Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition of the skin that affects approximately 2% of the population,’ Dr Kluk explains. ‘The outer layer of our skin is constantly generating new skin cells and replacing old ones, but in psoriasis this process is sped up significantly and occurs over days rather than weeks.’

    According to the NHS, skin cells are usually replaced every three to four weeks, but in psoriasis this can take as little as three days. ‘This increase in cell turnover leads to the typical symptoms that we see,’ Justine adds.

    The NHS notes that, although it can start at any age, psoriasis usually develops before the age of 35 and varies in severity from person to person. And it’s not contagious, so you can’t catch it from another sufferer.

    What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

    ‘Psoriasis causes salmon pink patches to appear on the skin,’ explains Justine. ‘These often have a silvery scale on the surface; sometimes, they cause soreness, discomfort or itching and sometimes they don’t.’

    ‘Any part of the skin can be affected, however the elbows, knees, belly button, scalp and ears are some of the most frequently affected sites. Psoriasis can occur on genital skin, between the buttocks and in the armpits, where the patches are typically smooth, red and shiny rather than flaky.

    ‘If the nails are affected, pits or ridges can appear on the surface, or the nails can become thickened and discoloured. In certain individuals, psoriasis can also affect the joints by causing swelling, pain and stiffness and this is known as psoriatic arthritis.’


    What causes psoriasis?

    There are a few different factors that can contribute to a person developing and having the condition, but the cause is thought to be rooted in your body’s immune system.

    ‘Your genes play an important role, meaning that if one or more of your parents or siblings has psoriasis you will have an increased chance of developing it, compared to someone who doesn’t have any affected family members,’ Dr Kluk tells us.

    ‘Environmental factors, such as stress, smoking, infection and certain medications, such as beta blockers, can also act as triggers.’

    Are there psoriasis treatments?

    Unfortunately, like a lot of skin conditions, there is no ‘cure’ per se for psoriasis. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to keep its prevalence under control

    ‘The choice of treatment really depends on how severely you are affected and includes creams containing a steroid or vitamin D, tablets and injections that modify the immune system, and phototherapy, which is a form of outpatient light treatment carried out in hospital Dermatology Departments,’ our doctor explains.

    ‘Most psoriasis sufferers will benefit from frequent and liberal application of a moisturising cream or ointment, and scalp symptoms can improve with the regular use of a coal tar-based shampoo or scalp lotion containing coconut oil.

    ‘If you are suffering with psoriasis and are finding it difficult to put your feelings into words and get the right support from friends, family or even your doctor, charities like The Psoriasis Association or the website from the British Association of Dermatologists are a good place to start.’

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