Have you — or someone close to you — noticed itchy red patches of skin that won’t stay away no matter how many times you moisturize or exfoliate? The cause could be psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that affects millions of Americans.
Our team of board-certified dermatologists at Manhattan Dermatology has extensive experience diagnosing and treating skin concerns of all kinds, including psoriasis.
Many people don’t understand this condition or what causes psoriasis to develop. We’re here to help you become more familiar with the ins and outs of the condition, whether it runs in families, and the ways you can keep your skin healthy.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system targets and attacks healthy cells. It isn’t contagious, and different types of psoriasis have different symptoms.
The most common type is called plaque psoriasis. With this form of psoriasis, your immune system attacks healthy skin cells.
Healthy skin cells form in the deep layers of your skin tissue. They make their way to the surface slowly, where they replace old cells. When newer cells break through the surface, these older cells flake off. This cycle takes about a month from start to finish.
When you have psoriasis, the attack by your immune system puts your skin cycle in faster gear. New cells develop more rapidly and come to the surface before the old cells flake away.
As a result, your skin cells build up or collect on the surface of your skin. This creates scaling, which gets its name from the appearance of these patches.
Plaque psoriasis begins as thick, raised, inflamed red patches that become covered with silvery white scales. These areas can itch, crack, and bleed.
For some people, the patches may cause soreness and burning. You can get plaque psoriasis on most areas of your body, but these patches more commonly show up on the scalp, lower back, elbow, and knees.
Other types of psoriasis cause different symptoms in different locations. For example, guttate psoriasis causes small pink-and-red or purple-tinted spots on the trunk, upper arms, and thighs, while inverse psoriasis causes patches of smooth, shiny, bright red skin without scales.
Psoriasis and your family: the genetic link
The exact cause of psoriasis is still under investigation by medical researchers. But since many autoimmune conditions run in families, scientists hypothesize that it’s a genetic disorder that develops in people exposed to certain conditions.
In other words, people carrying the gene for psoriasis are exposed to something that triggers the condition to flare, meaning a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a role.
We do know that certain triggers can cause people with psoriasis to experience flare-ups or cause existing symptoms to worsen. These vary from person to person, but common triggers include:
- Weather changes
- Infection or illness
- Certain medications
- Smoking and alcohol
The foods you eat may also play a role in triggering psoriasis flares. Researchers have found that gluten, dairy, and red meat cause inflammation, which may explain why they also can trigger psoriasis flare-ups.
It’s a good idea to track what you eat to identify if these foods cause a reaction.
Managing your psoriasis
No matter which type of psoriasis you have or the exact cause, it’s important to understand that psoriasis is a lifelong, chronic condition. There is no cure. But effective treatment is key for easing your symptoms and managing your condition.
At Manhattan Dermatology, we treat each psoriasis case individually, examining your skin, health history, family history, and any known triggers to create a personalized psoriasis treatment plan.
Depending on your needs, this may include:
- Trigger avoidance and other lifestyle changes
- Topical creams and ointments
- Oral medications
- Light therapy to slow skin cell growth
Many patients use more than one therapy for the best results.
Learn more about psoriasis and the ways we can help you manage your condition by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at Manhattan Dermatology in the Murray Hill or Midtown East neighborhoods of Manhattan, New York City.