Psoriasis, a condition that causes skin cells to grow and accumulate faster than they can be shed, affects over 7.5 million people in the U.S. Normally, it takes a month for skin cells to grow, move to the skin’s outermost surface and become sloughed away. In people with psoriasis, the process of growth and rising to the surface occurs in only days, and the natural shedding process can’t keep up with the growth. This results in uncomfortable, sometimes painful skin patches.
There are several forms of psoriasis, and each form has its own specific symptoms.
The symptoms of plaque psoriasis, the most common form of the condition, vary from person to person and may even vary from one outbreak to the next in the same person. However, some symptoms are typical.
- Itchy plaques, also known as lesions of red, dry, raised skin covered in silvery scales develop.
- The plaques may crack, bleed or be painful.
- An outbreak may consist of only a few plaques or many plaques; occasionally, plaques merge and cover large areas of the body.
- Plaque psoriasis can occur on any body part. This includes genitals and insides of mouths.
Nail psoriasis disturbs fingernails and toenails with abnormal nail growth, discoloration and pitting. Nails sometimes loosen and lift from nail beds, and the nails crumble in severe cases.
Scalp psoriasis differs from plaque in that the symptoms appear on the scalp, but the patches frequently move beyond hairlines; however, the symptoms remain the same. As with dandruff, flakes of dead skin often appear in the hair or on the shoulders, and the appearance increases after scratching.
Small, pinkish-red spots in the shape of water drops appear on arms, legs, scalp and trunk, and fine scales thinner than those on plaques cover the spots. Guttate psoriasis can occur as a single outbreak or repeatedly. Unlike other forms of psoriasis, which are believed to be an autoimmune condition, this form develops through bacterial infection, such as strep throat. Guttate psoriasis generally affects children and young adults.
In inverse psoriasis, red, inflamed skin in smooth patches develops in armpits, groins and folds of skin, such as beneath breasts and around genitals. Friction and sweating worsen the symptoms, which are believed to be triggered by fungal infections.
Whether it’s large patches over the body or small patches on fingertips, pustular psoriasis develops rapidly. Instead of silvery scales, pus-filled blisters cover red, tender skin, and the blisters may come and go. Chills, diarrhea, fever and severe itching often accompany an outbreak.
When pain and swelling in joints typical of arthritis accompany psoriasis, the form is psoriatic arthritis. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, between 10 and 30 percent of psoriasis sufferers have psoriatic arthritis.
Unfortunately, psoriasis doesn’t have a cure, but sufferers can manage and treat the symptoms through a combination of topical treatments, including creams, lotions and shampoos, systemic treatment with pills or injections, which affect the immune response, and phototherapy, which treats psoriasis with light. Additionally, home care might lessen the severity or duration of outbreaks.
If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a doctor or dermatologist to verify a diagnosis of psoriasis and discuss the treatments that best suit you.