August marks national Psoriasis Awareness Month in the United States, and one of the biggest pushes made by sufferers and medical experts alike is educating the public that the visible skin condition is not contagious. While rashes can sometimes indicate the presence of a virus that may spread from host to host, psoriasis does not fall into that category. Instead, it is the result of an individual’s overactive immune system, which causes skin cells to build up, forming red, dry, itchy patches and silvery scales. As someone who frequently works with patients suffering from psoriasis in Dallas, dermatology specialist Dr. Ellen Turner is familiar with the misconceptions that follow the non-communicable disease.
Ongoing studies by dermatology and immunology experts have not yet revealed the ultimate cause of psoriasis, though researches have uncovered vital information in recent decades. Psoriasis is not viral, and it is not bacterial. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, an estimated 10 percent of the planet’s human population could have genetic coding that leads to psoriasis, but the disease is only triggered to actively develop in 2 to 3 percent of this group.
Triggers include the sorts of factors that generally negatively impact a person’s health: infections, injuries, and stress. Various medications have also been identified as possible catalysts for a psoriatic reaction.
Since psoriasis manifests so obviously in the skin, another common misconception about it is that it is a skin disease. Note that sufferers may deal with more than just dermatology-based problems. About 30 percent of those with the skin condition also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes joints to swell painfully and grow stiff.
That said, psoriasis is often diagnosed by a dermatology specialist or other medical expert familiar with skin conditions. Rather than using a blood test, a dermatology expert may biopsy the skin in question for a closer look. When compared to skin displaying symptoms of eczema, psoriasis-impacted skin is thicker and inflamed.
Both skin and joint problems are caused by a patient’s own body acting as if it is fighting off an infection, even though there is no infection present. This hyperactive immune response is what causes the abnormal skin growth, swelling, and pain.
Given the nature of the disease, immunology researchers continue to study psoriasis in the hopes of learning more and discovering a cure. Dermatology specialists tend to focus on treatment of the symptoms, especially since they can be uncomfortable, and some people dealing with the patches find them to be embarrassingly noticeable.
There are several different ways psoriasis can manifest in the skin. Most commonly, it forms a raised and reddened plaque capped with dead skin that gives it a silvery and scaly look. About 10 percent of the time, it presents as guttate, which could almost be mistaken for measles or chicken pox, especially since this type favors young people and can appear after a strep infection.
Red and shiny skin in warmer, moist areas of the body—like the groin and underarms—can be inverse psoriasis. Small, white blisters indicate pustular psoriasis, while the most volatile form, erythrodermic psoriasis, results in a red rash that can cover almost the whole body and causes skin to slough off.
Erythrodermic psoriasis only flares up in an estimated three percent of psoriasis sufferers, but it is far more than a simple cosmetic dermatology issue and can be life threatening, so patients experiencing it should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
For the less severe forms, a dermatology specialist may recommend topical or light therapy treatments, especially if the patches are localized, such as on the hands and feet only. Cases that involve more of the body may call for prescription medications taken by mouth or injected.