“I was born with psoriasis,” says one sufferer online. “I’m now 16, and I feel like crap, to be honest. I can’t deal with this anymore. I hate looking at my skin.”
“I hate to go to the stores, work, or even to the park with my kids,” says another, “for fear that I will see those looks that people give me. This disease is disgusting. I literally sweep up piles of my skin off the floor and brush off my furniture from it constantly. I keep my body covered up by wearing pants and sweaters, long sleeve shirts. I hate it, especially during the summer, when I feel like I’m suffocating and want to rip my clothes off.”
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, people with psoriasis experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than the general population, which can even increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. More than 80 percent of patients surveyed reported their disease to be a moderate or large problem in their everyday lives.
Here’s more about this difficult disease, and some tips for how to control the flare-ups.
Psoriasis flare-ups can be painful and embarrassing. Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available.
What is Psoriasis?
A genetic disease that causes red, scaly lesions on the skin, psoriasis is not contagious. Scientists believe it’s caused by a malfunctioning immune system. Somehow, the immune system is mistakenly triggered to speed up the growth cycle of skin cells, which creates the red, unsightly patches as the cells accumulate too quickly on the surface—and the body can’t get rid of them fast enough. In fact, while healthy skin typically takes about a month to refresh with new skin cells, skin with psoriasis can go through this process in just a few days.
What Are the Symptoms of Psoriasis?
Psoriasis produces a number of symptoms in addition to the scaly patches on the surface of the skin. Typically, these show up on the elbows, knees, legs, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and the soles of the feet. In some people, symptoms can even crop up on the fingernails and toenails and inside the mouth.
- Redness and inflammation
- Thick, red skin with silvery scales
- Patches that itch or feel sore
- Dry, cracked skin that may bleed
- Thickened, pitted, or ridged nails
- Small scaling spots
- Dandruff-like scaling
- Swollen and stiff joints
Most types of psoriasis come and go cycles, with patients experiencing “flare-ups” during which the symptoms will appear for a few weeks or months, then subside for a time, sometimes going into complete remission.
Since psoriasis is a form of immune malfunction, certain things in life can trigger the malfunction, causing a flare-up. Common triggers include:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Bug bites
- Cold weather
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Some medications, including beta blockers and antimalarial drugs
Those who are more at risk for the disease include those who have close family members with psoriaisis, and those with frequent viral and bacterial infections, as well as those who are obese or who smoke.
If you start to show signs of psoriasis, check with your doctor first. Treatments include topical corticosteroids that slow cell turnover, synthetic forms of vitamin D that slows the growth of skin cells, and medications that help normalize skin cell activity. Other medications help slough off dead skin cells to reduce scaling, itching, and inflammation.
Some people have also experienced benefits with light therapy, which uses natural or artificial ultraviolet light to slow skin cell turnover. There are a number of different types of light therapy, so if one doesn’t work for you, talk to your dermatologist about other types. Many psoriasis sufferers also experience fewer flare ups with regular, short periods of sun exposure. A 2009 study found that after 15 days or regular sun exposure, participants with psoriasis experienced about a 73 percent decline in Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI) scores.
In addition to trying doctor-recommended treatments, consider these natural options for taming psoriasis flare-ups:
- Wash regularly. Taking daily baths helps remove scales and calm inflamed skin. Add some oatmeal and Epsom salts to moisturize and soothe irritated skin.
- Avoid your triggers. Try keeping a journal for several months, and note when your psoriasis flares up. Were you stressed at the time? Did it happen after you had a few drinks? Try to make connections to find out what may be triggering the skin eruptions. You may find that when you’re feeling relaxed and happy—when everything in your life feels balanced—that your flare-ups fade. When things become out of balance—you fail to get enough sleep, or go several days without regular exercise, or become stressed out by something—your body is more likely to react. Strive for a balance in all your days.
- Take a fish oil supplement. Some studies indicate that daily supplementation with fish oil can help reduce inflammation associated with psoriasis. Try 3 grams a day.
- Apple cider vinegar. If you have scalp psoriasis, try applying organic apple cider vinegar to the scalp several times a week. You may want to dilute it with water (1-to-1 ratio).
- Sea salt. Adding these to your bath can help ease itching.
Do you have other tips for soothing psoriasis flare-ups? Please let us know.