Inflamed patches of the skin which are scaly and come and go could be psoriasis, a rather common skin condition which is chronic. Sometimes the patches itch and burn, and this condition can occur virtually anywhere on the body, although it is most commonly found on the elbows, knees, hands, lower back and on the scalp.
While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are several treatments which can alleviate or control the condition.
Causes of Psoriasis
This condition is not caused by an infection or an allergic reaction and is thus a mystery as to its cause. Psoriasis may be an autoimmune illness, meaning that the immune system attacks the body, resulting in bouts of psoriasis. It is not contagious.
Symptoms of Psoriasis
There are several different types of this condition. Each type of psoriasis has its own symptoms, as noted below:
- Plaque psoriasis – The most common form of this condition, symptoms include round or oval plaques on the skin. Some 10% of the people affected with this condition also suffer from arthritis.
- Guttate – This type of psoriasis is characterized by small, dot-like lesions.
- Psoriasis vulgaris – Has large, silvery scales.
- Pustular psoriasis – Is characterized by weeping lesions and intense scaling.
- Inverse psoriasis – Causes intense inflammation.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis – Marked by redness of the skin and intense scaling.
How Psoriasis is Diagnosed
A physician can readily diagnose psoriasis by its general appearance. Biopsies of the skin can also be taken to confirm that the condition present is psoriasis and not a contact dermatitis, which sometimes look quite similar.
Treatment of psoriasis depends on what type it is and how severe the case is for the patient. Treatment can be complicated as the symptoms can tend to flare up and then subside, without a specific cause for the flare-ups to be known. Some people can become resistant to one treatment over a long period of time and may have to resort to other forms of treatment for their psoriasis. When several treatments are used in rotation, the best success if often made with the least amount of side effects.
Topical treatments and moisturizers are typically the first line of treatment for this condition. Petroleum jelly can be used to relieve the redness and itching. Topical treatments which are made from coal tar have been used for centuries to relieve redness and itching and to reduce the inflammation associated with psoriasis. Other topical medications can be used to remove scales include calciprtriol, which is a synthetic form of Vitamin D, as well as salicylic acid and reinoids.
Oatmeal baths are often effective to calm the skin.
Oral retinoids are known to help clear the skin of scales and cyclosporine suppresses the immune system, thus helping to reduce the inflammation caused by psoriasis. Oral retinoids should not be used by pregnant women or those who could become pregnant.
If the case of psoriasis is mild, physicians may recommend over-the-counter 0.5% hydrocortisone creams.
However, there are also a number of natural treatments including herbs which can be beneficial to the treatment of psoriasis. They include:
- Bishop’s weed – Ancient Indians and Egyptians rubbed scaly patches of skin with plants containing psoralens and let them dry while sitting in the sun. These compounds inhibit cell division, slowing down the production of the skin cells which create the scales in psoriasis. If the treatment appears to irritate the skin, discontinue its use.
- Red chili peppers – Creams containing hot pepper seems to help both dry skin and psoriasis. These creams include capsaicin, Axsain and Zacin The latter two are sold as pain relievers but work in the case of psoriasis. In one study using capsaicin cream, the group successfully reduced both redness and scaling due to psoriasis. If using capsaicin cream, but sure to thoroughly wash the hands after use and avoid contact with the eyes. Discontinue its use if the skin condition seems to worsen or becomes more irritated.
- Angelica – This plant also contains psoralens. Along with angelica, try carrots, celery, fennel, figs, parsnips and citrus fruits. A juice can be blended made of various citrus fruits, one stalk of celery and a carrot.
- Avocado – Many folk healers recommend rubbing mashed avocado directly onto the patches of psoriasis.
- Brazil nuts – These nuts are known to contain an oil which is rich in selenium and vitamin E. Some skin creams also come with vitamin E as an active ingredient.
- Chamomile – Preparations made of chamomile are very popular in Europe to treat dry skin, eczema and psoriasis. Many alternative medicine practitioners argue that the use of this herb applied topically works much better the typical medications prescribed to treat this condition. Chamomile products should be used with caution by those who suffer from hay fever. Chamomile is a member of the ragwort family and may cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Flax – Some plant oils seem to be chemically similar to fish oils (which are helpful in treating psoriasis), and flax is one of them. Flaxseed oil contains beneficial compounds called alpha-linolenic acie and eicosapentaenoic acid. Flaxseed oil can be added to salad dressings to disguise the taste.
- Licorice – External applications of licorice can frequently be superior to hydrocortisone creams for treating psoriasis. Buy a licorice extract and apply it directly to the affected area with a clean cloth or a cotton ball.
Prevention of Psoriasis
While there is no current known way to prevent an onset of psoriasis, it may be possible to reduce the incidence of flare-ups of this condition. Limit exposure to the sun to prevent sunburn, and wear sunscreen and a hat when outdoors at midday.
Control stress with therapies such as exercise, yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
Who is at Risk
Anyone can contract psoriasis, with an estimated 2% of the population being afflicted with this condition.
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