August 02, 2011
If you have psoriasis, you’ll typically notice itchy, dry, red patches covered with thick, silvery, scales. There might be some burning and pain. These patches usually appear on the elbow, knees, legs, lower back, feet and hands. They can even get into your scalp. Sometimes, there’s also pitted nails or stiff joints.
Psoriasis is often misdiagnosed as poison ivy, eczema, rosacea and sometimes even acne. Kim’s sister thought it was ringworm…which it wasn’t. (And that’s why you shouldn’t rely on your non-dermatologist friends to diagnose your rashes!) Psoriasis can be both embarrassing and painful. But there’s no need to remain silent about psoriasis—your doctor may be able to offer you treatments to alleviate your psoriasis symptoms.
Where Did It Come From?
So how did you get it? Is it contagious? Psoriasis is thought to be a problem of your immune system. Your body has a type of special cell called a T-cell that travels throughout your body patrolling for foreign substances (like bacteria) and either kills them or alerts your body that these invaders need to be destroyed. This is usually a good thing. In psoriasis, though, your T-cells accidentally attack healthy skin - triggering new skin cells to be created more quickly than normal.
Basically, your skin is tricked into thinking that it’s damaged and needs to rebuild itself, so your skin produces more cells than it can handle - leading to the inflammation and thick scales that appear in psoriasis. It’s not contagious. But there are some factors that can put you at increased risk - these include stress, smoking and obesity. Genetics play a role too. It’s not surprising that Kim’s mother also suffers from psoriasis; nearly 40% of those afflicted have a family member who is also affected.
How Do I Get Rid of It?
Most of the time, symptoms come and go; flare-ups occur and then there’s a time when symptoms subside. But I’ve got news - the symptoms almost always return. Although there’s not a cure for psoriasis, there are a few remedies that you can try at home to alleviate mild or moderate symptoms.
- Take a daily soak in the tub for at least 15 minutes with oatmeal, Epsom salts or bath oil to calm inflamed skin and remove scales. After bathing, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer to your skin before it completely dries.
- Apply an ointment-based moisturizer to your skin before bed, and then wrap the area with plastic wrap. I know, I know…sounds like you’re becoming mummified! Removing the wrap in the morning and then taking a shower or bath can help to wash away scales. Make sure the water temperature is warm but not hot.
- Apply coal tar to the skin, one of the oldest and most effective treatments. No one knows exactly how it works, but if you’re willing to put up with the odor and the stains it may make on your clothes or bedding, it could be the treatment for you. Coal tar is available over-the-counter in shampoos and creams. The challenge is many people don’t like the smell.
- Use cream/ointment with corticosteroids. These help to reduce inflammation and itching. These should not be used every day because they may lose their effectiveness if used for too long, and they also can weaken skin elasticity on the face.
- A natural way to find relief from psoriasis is through sunlight – that’s right, exposing your skin to sunlight for brief periods of time can relieve symptoms. The UV rays found in sunlight kill T-cells in the skin - reducing the scaling and swelling they create. Keep in mind, though, that too much sun exposure may be equally bad for your skin - leading to worsened symptoms and more permanent skin damage. Thirty minutes or so, three times a week is usually sufficient. There are also various forms of laser therapy that may help in treating your psoriasis.
If your psoriasis is particularly severe, your doctor may prescribe a variety of oral drugs as well as drugs that require an injection. While on any medication for your psoriasis, be sure to avoid alcohol, as alcohol has the potential to decrease the effectiveness of psoriasis treatments.
Although psoriasis flare-ups can be frustrating, embarrassing and painful, you can and should get relief. If you think your skin irritation is more than just a common rash or if it just won’t go away, talk to your doctor - he or she will be able to guide you toward the support you need.
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