Whether it's eczema, dry skin, acne, or sunburn, there are plenty of skin conditions that many people know a lot about. However, one lesser-known — but also prevalent — skin condition is psoriasis.
Even though 7.5 million people in the US have psoriasis, there are many myths and misconceptions that surround the condition. This can lead to harmful stigmas for those living with it.
National Psoriasis Awareness Month is dedicated to educating the public about this particular chronic autoimmune disease, and is a good opportunity to learn more.
Whether you’re trying to better understand your own diagnosis or support someone in your life with psoriasis, National Psoriasis Awareness month is a great time to learn more about the condition.
Here are 5 important things to know and remember about psoriasis — and 5 psoriasis myths to forget.
1. What Is Psoriasis?
You may have seen a commercial for a psoriasis medication, but you may not be 100% what it is.
Psoriasis is a condition where skin cells grow faster than normal. Because your skin cells are growing at a rapid rate, they form bumpy, thick, or scaly patches on top of the skin. These scales can often be itchy, painful, or flakey.
Myth: Only Adults Get Psoriasis
While you may think that only adults can get psoriasis, children can be diagnosed with psoriasis as well.
2. What Causes Psoriasis?
There is no clear cause for psoriasis, but both genetics and the immune system play a role. Psoriasis often runs in families, and you have a higher risk of having the condition if a parent, sibling, or grandparent has it.
Genetics are not the only factors, however, as changes in the immune system can also act as triggers for psoriasis onset or flare-ups.
Common triggers that can lead to flare-ups include:
Other factors may play a part in triggering flare-ups in your psoriasis. Talk to your doctor about how to track your triggers and manage your psoriasis.
Myth: Psoriasis Is Contagious
Psoriasis is not a disease that you can "catch". You cannot get psoriasis from skin-to-skin contact with someone who has psoriasis.
According to Dr. Sarah Todd, MD, a Dermatologist with Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners, "Understanding this myth can help break the stigma surrounding psoriasis and increase the quality of life and relationships for those living with it.
3. What Does Psoriasis Look Like?
There are multiple forms psoriasis can take, and they each look a little different.
Common forms of psoriasis are:
- Plaque Psoriasis: The most common form of psoriasis, forming on the scalp, elbows, knees, and back. Patches are typically thick and scaly.
- Scalp Psoriasis: Patches that form on the scalp, neck, forehead, or ears. These patches can be thick or thin.
- Inverse Psoriasis: Develops in the armpit or groin area where skin is rubbing against skin. Patches typically look smooth and shiny — not scaly.
- Erythrodermic Psoriasis: This form of psoriasis causes the skin to look burnt in large patches.
Learn more about what different forms of psoriasis can look like from the American Academy of Dermatologists.
Myth: All Psoriasis Looks the Same
While there are multiple types of psoriasis that each present a little differently on the skin, psoriasis will also look different depending on your skin tone.
- For people with fairer skin, psoriasis will often show up as pink or red patches with silvery-white scales.
- For people with darker skin, psoriasis can look like violet patches with grey scales. Psoriasis in Black patients can also be a darker brown and hard to see.
While psoriasis may look different for different people, treatments are typically the same.
4. How Do You Get Diagnosed with Psoriasis?
Psoriasis typically emerges in adults aged 20 to 30 and 50 to 60, but it can also develop at any period during your life.
"In most cases, your primary care provider can diagnose psoriasis by examining your skin. They will assess how your skin looks, where skin patches are occurring, and the intensity of itchiness. They may also ask you questions about your family’s medical history," explains Dr. Todd.
Sometimes, psoriasis can look like eczema or other skin conditions, so some patients may require a dermatologist’s opinion or a biopsy — where a doctor will examine a tissue sample to help determine the cause of a disease.
Myth: Psoriasis Is Just a Skin Disease
Some people think that psoriasis is just a disease of the skin or that it creates purely cosmetic struggles for those living with it. But psoriasis can come with a physical — as well as mental — toll on those living with it.
When it comes to psoriasis, some conditions can occur alongside psoriasis, including:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
5. What Are the Treatment Options for Psoriasis?
If you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis, you may have done a quick online search. Something that may have stuck out — and been a little scary — is that there is “no cure” for psoriasis.
"While there is ‘no cure’ for psoriasis, there are many treatment options available. In fact, there are many new, very effective treatments that can almost entirely clear skin plaques and improve joint pain. The future is also hopeful, as new medications continue to be developed and tested each year," says Dr. Todd.
Myth: Psoriasis Is Untreatable
Treatment may not cure psoriasis, but it can help many patients reach a stage of clear or near-clear skin. Typical treatment services for psoriasis often include:
- Topical formulations applied to the skin such as anthralin, calcineurin inhibitors, steroids, tar and vitamin D derivatives
- Local steroid injections
- Excimer laser treatments
- Oral prescriptions, such as methotrexate, cyclosporine, and acitretin
- Biologic therapies, such as adalimumab, etanercept, infliximab, and ustekinumab
- Scalp therapies
National Psoriasis Awareness Month is the perfect time to learn more about treatment options and how to support each other. By arming yourself with new knowledge about psoriasis, you can help counter the harmful myths and stigmas surrounding this disease.
If you have questions about psoriasis, contact your Chester County Hospital primary care provider to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.