by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Psoriasis is a very common autoimmune disorder that develops when our immune system misidentifies the cells of our skin as “invaders”. The immune system is the system that fights the “invaders” preventing or inhibiting infection so when it mistakes the identity of the skin cells it initiates defense mechanisms. Psoriasis can affect pretty much anyone at anytime, however the average age of onset is usually between 15-35 years of age or between 57-60 years of age. There are approximately 5 1/2 million people in the US diagnosed with plaque psoriasis.
The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, however many researchers believe there is a genetic component. In fact the first gene to be linked to psoriasis was recently identified. Though family history significantly increase your chances of developing psoriasis only approximately 1/3 of the people diagnosed with psoriasis have a family history. There are other factors that scientists have identified as potential “triggers”, including an injury to the skin, that would include sunburns as well as infections. There has also been evidence that certain types of plaque psoriasis develop after a streptococcal infection. Certain medications have also been linked to the development of psoriasis as well as high stress, a cold environment and heavy alcohol consumption.
There are 5 different types of psoriasis and none of them are contagious. The most common is plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis appears as thick, red patches of skin with a layer of flaky silver-white scales giving it a shinny appearance. Erythodermic psoriasis appears as a large area of very bright red skin, where as Guttate psoriasis looks like small pink to red spots across the skin. Inverse psoriasis develops in the arm pits , groin, under breasts or in the fold of skin as a red irritation. Pustular psoriasis appears like white blisters surrounded by irritated and red skin.
The symptoms of psoriasis vary from person to person depending on the type of psoriasis you have. The most common symptoms of psoriasis are red irritated patches of skin, usually on the knees and elbows, but can develop anywhere. Your skin is frequently dry and itchy with patches of red raised areas. Sometimes there can be changes in your nails, they can turn a yellow-brown color and thicken.
There is no known cure for psoriasis, treatment is a lifelong endeavor. There are 3 main types of treatment for psoriasis, topical, meaning creams and ointments, light therapy and medications. The type of treatment you will need depends on the type and severity of psoriasis you have. The main goals of treatment is to disrupt the cycle causing tthe increase in cell production and remove the scales smoothing the skin. There are a variety of new medications that have been shown to be effective in treating psoriasis including enbrel and humira.