Condition: Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common autoimmune skin condition that causes red, scaly patches of skin.

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What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a long-term chronic autoimmune skin condition that causes red, thick, flaky patches called plaques to develop on the skin. Often, these areas of skin are covered in thin silvery-white scale which can cause itching.

Most often, psoriasis affects the elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, but patches can develop on any area of the body. It’s a very common skin condition and affects men and women equally. The condition tends to develop between the ages of 20 and 30, and 50 and 60 years old, but can start at any age.


What causes psoriasis?

Usually, skin cells regenerate every 28 to 30 days. With psoriasis, the immune system goes into overdrive causing new skin cells to be produced every three to four days. As these new skin cells move to the skin’s surface they build up to form plaques. Why the immune system behaves in this way isn’t fully understood.

The condition can run in families but the role of genetics as a possible cause of psoriasis is unclear. Psoriasis is not contagious.

A number of factors can trigger psoriasis flare-ups:

  • Stress
  • Skin injuries
  • Illnesses and infections
  • Some medications, like lithium and beta-blockers
  • Cold, dry weather
  • Sun damage
  • Certain foods
  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking

What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

There are several types of psoriasis, and symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Symptoms of the most common form, plaque psoriasis, include:

  • Red, thick, raised plaques
  • Dry, thin, silvery-white scales over plaques
  • Plaques of different sizes
  • Small plaques connecting together, forming larger plaques
  • Itchy, irritated or painful plaques
  • Cracks in the skin that sometimes bleed

Psoriasis is diagnosed by examining the skin. In some cases, a small biopsy or swab may be done to confirm a diagnosis and check for infection.


What are the treatment options for psoriasis?

There are several treatments available to relieve symptoms:

  • Topical treatments – Over-the-counter and prescription treatments like corticosteroids, coal tar, hydrocortisone, salicylic acid and heavy cream, ointment, or oil moisturisers can be applied directly to the skin to reduce itching, scaling and irritation
  • Phototherapy – If topical treatments aren’t effective or if the psoriasis is severe, light treatments may be used with the aim of slowing down the growth of skin cells
  • Oral or injected medications – Oral or injected medication may be tried in cases where topical treatments and light therapy are unsuccessful, or if the condition is particularly severe or widespread. These treatments aim to calm the immune response that causes accelerated skin growth to help reduce redness, scales and irritation

Psoriasis Specialists