Psoriasis: How To Stop That Itch
by Shirley Pang
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterised by the unusual, rapid build-up of dead skin cells, resulting in thickened skin and flaky plaques. It can affect anyone, but is more commonly found in people between 15 to 45 years old.
This condition is non-contagious and non-curable, but it often gets better for a short period of time before flaring up for weeks to months.
Currently, about 1% to 2% of the local population suffer from psoriasis.
Common symptoms of psoriasis
Psoriasis may occur in any part of the body, but commonly on the elbow, knees and scalp, and depending on the affected area, the appearance of the lesions may differ slightly.
In general, affected areas are usually red with raised skin patches, which may appear dry and itchy with flaking, silvery scales and sometimes, bleeding at the plaques. Besides the skin, psoriasis may affect the joints and cause it to swell and be painful, a condition known as psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriasis can also affect the nails, causing abnormal nail growth and discolouration.
Psoriasis VS Eczema
Psoriasis is often confused with eczema but with closer examination, psoriasis is usually accompanied with more extensive flaking, silvery scales. Eczema, on the other hand, does not exhibit such characteristics though the skin may be dry.
Possible causes of psoriasis
There are various factors that lead to psoriasis, including heredity, immunity and sunlight.
This condition tends to run in the family, and is likely to be passed down to subsequent generations.
Often, psoriasis has been hypothesised to be a dysfunction of the immune system where it triggers an immune response on the healthy skin cells.
As a result, the skin cells regenerate faster than it can shed, leading to the thickening of the skin. This is why patients with a weak immunity (e.g. HIV patients) may suffer from a more severe case of psoriasis.
A good balance of sun exposure is essential in keeping psoriasis away – too little sunlight can trigger it and excessive sun exposure can aggravate the symptoms.
Trauma to the skin
An injury, infection or other types of trauma to the skin can lead to psoriasis. It is hence important for individuals to be careful not to fall or get cut.
Other factors that can lead to or worsen psoriasis include stress, smoking, heavy alcohol intake, hormonal changes and the side effects of certain medications.
Treatment for psoriasis’ symptoms
Although psoriasis cannot be cured, it can be controlled with topical or oral medications.
Many individuals who have psoriasis usually look for topical applications that can provide symptomatic relief for their condition.
Of all topical medications, coal tar preparations are one of the most accessible options and are easily available over the counter at pharmacies. They come in ointments or creams for the skin and shampoos for the scalp.
Besides relieving the itch, coal tar helps to soften the scales and reduce the thickness of the plaques. It may also help to slow down bacterial growth and the turnover of over-active skin cells.
For more severe itching and inflammation, prescription creams and vitamin D analogue creams may be recommended by a doctor. Certain prescription creams that target the immune system may also be useful, along with moisturisers that can help to reduce dryness and soften the skin.
Individuals with widespread psoriasis all over the body may require oral medications prescribed by a doctor. Oral medications target the abnormal immune response that leads to the condition.
Other options to consider include phototherapy, which has to be done under the supervision of a trained medical professional.
Prevention tips for psoriasis
Other than medical treatments, it is important for patients to make lifestyle changes as they will help to improve the symptoms of psoriasis.
- Get adequate exposure to sunlight, but always apply sunblock before going outdoors
- Quit smoking if you’re a smoker
- Don’t let stress get in the way – stress aggravates psoriasis