For some people, their skin cells grow quickly—too quickly. The cells build up to create scaly red patches that are itchy and painful. Psoriasis is a chronic disease with flare-ups that come and go, and can happen to anyone, says Dr. Jeffrey Zwerner, senior medical director of dermatology at Teladoc.
While the scaly appearance often makes people feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, the disease—which comes in various types—can also lead to more serious symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about this common skin disorder and how you can keep flare-ups down.
Causes and complaints
Psoriasis is caused by an autoimmune problem where T cells attack healthy skin cells. More cells grow in response, then pile up to form thick, dry patches raised on the skin called plaques. These can form anywhere, but mostly are found on the knees, elbows, scalp, back, hands, and face. They sometimes look white or silvery, and are often itchy, sore, or stinging. Nails can also be affected.
Even though the plaques may look alarming to others, “Psoriasis is not contagious at all,” Dr. Zwerner says. “And while the red scaly areas on the skin are a common complaint, some conditions can be broader and include joint stiffness.”
Psoriasis can lead to a specific type of arthritis, causing pain and swelling in the joints, which makes moving difficult. Having the disease also makes you more likely to develop other conditions including eye ailments, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, emotional struggles, and other autoimmune diseases.1
Considering all these challenges, let’s take a look at what triggers psoriasis flare-ups, and how you can treat them.
Targeting triggers and treatments to try
There’s a lot we don’t know about what causes psoriasis, and there is no cure. We do know that itching draws more attention to the area, leading to more cell growth, plaque thickness, and irritation. So try not to scratch!
The triggers for flare-ups depend on each person’s system, so pay attention to what’s happening just before the patches appear. Stress often plays a role, and both smoking and heavy drinking are linked to flare-ups.1 Illnesses and infections, certain medications, and even an injury to the skin or sunburn can cause outbreaks.1 Be aware of your environment, and try to stay well-rested, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly.
In terms of managing your symptoms, “moisturization is really important,” Dr. Zwerner says. He also often prescribes topical creams containing steroids and vitamin D, and sometimes recommends ultraviolet light therapy. For scalp psoriasis, he suggests using a tar-based shampoo.
Psoriasis is a disease for life. Keep paying attention to triggers, your lifestyle habits, and the range of symptoms. “Don’t ignore joint complaints or say you’re just getting ‘old,’” Dr. Zwerner warns. Joint problems could be related to the psoriasis and would require more serious therapy, he says.
U.S. board-certified Teladoc dermatologists are here to help you manage your disease. We can examine your plaques, come up with a skin care routine, and prescribe medication to keep your psoriasis from getting worse. We’ll help you gain control of your health. Reach out online or by app, and we’ll provide our expert advice within two business days.
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