Psoriasis is a relatively common skin condition that causes red, scaly patches to develop. Commonly affected areas of the body include the elbows, chest, scalp and backs of the knees. Psoriasis is a chronic condition, and symptoms tend to go through active phases and dormant phases. There's no cure for this condition, but there are a variety of treatment options to help manage symptoms. Here's an overview of psoriasis.
Psoriasis is thought to be caused by skin cells regenerating faster than normal due to an abnormal immune system response. It's unclear why some people's immune systems behaves this way, but genetic and environmental factors, such as stress, smoking and having another autoimmune condition, are considered potential triggers for psoriasis.
Common symptoms of psoriasis include red patches of skin that can be itchy and appear scaly or cracked. The patches may be raised and can vary in size. Cracked areas of skin may bleed, and if bacteria get into broken skin, an infection can develop. Signs of infection include swelling of the affected area that extends beyond the psoriasis patch and pus coming from skin lesions. Some people with psoriasis also experience joint pain or stiffness.
Your GP will diagnose psoriasis by examining your skin, and they may take a skin cell scraping for analysis to determine the strain of bacteria present if there are signs of infection. Antibiotics will be prescribed to treat an infection, and topical or oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and help the skin to heal. Synthetic forms of vitamin D can also be applied to the skin to slow the development of new skin cells, and ointments containing salicylic acid can be applied to remove scales.
When topical treatments aren't controlling symptoms as well as you'd like, you can try light therapy, which involves affected areas of skin being exposed to controlled doses of UVA or UVB light to alter skin cell regeneration. You may require several light therapy sessions before you see an improvement in active psoriasis symptoms.
Severe psoriasis that hasn't responded well to more conservative treatment can be treated with an immunosuppressant, such as methotrexate or cyclosporine, which dampens down the immune response that's thought to contribute to the development of rapid skin cell regeneration in those with psoriasis.
If you've recently developed symptoms associated with psoriasis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They will work with you to formulate a treatment plan, and some GP surgeries run skin clinics that provide rapid access to treatment when symptoms flare up.