August is Psoriasis Awareness Month
Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H, Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office
Psoriasis is a chronic, non-contagious, autoimmune skin disease. Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the United States. An estimated 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.
Psoriasis causes cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin. These cells form thick, silvery scales and itchy, dry, red patches that can be painful. There are a variety of types of psoriasis but usually only one form appears at a time. People with psoriasis usually go through periods where their symptoms get better or worse.
Although the cause of psoriasis isn't completely understood, it appears to be related to how a person'?s immune system relates with the environment. Some people have a genetic tendency to develop psoriasis, and in these people, white blood cells called "T cells" attack healthy skin.
Psoriasis is usually "triggered" by a specific factor, like an infection, injury, stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, certain medications (particularly Lithium, used to treat depression), and cold weather.
Treating psoriasis usually involves a combination of approaches. Physicians commonly prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the swelling and redness of lesions. Aloe vera, jojoba, zinc pyrithione, and capsaicin creams are also used to help alleviate itching. In more severe cases, physicians will also prescribe "phototherapy," which involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of natural sunlight or artificial UVA or UVB light.
Alternative medical treatments for psoriasis include acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, yoga, or stress reduction techniques. Fish Oil (Omega 3 fatty acids) are also used to reduce inflammation from psoriasis. As with any supplements, consult your physician.
There are steps you can take to help with the symptoms of psoriasis:
- Take daily, 15 minute (or longer) baths with natural bath oil, colloidal oatmeal, Epsom salts or sea salts. Avoid hot water and harsh soaps.
- Use a heavy moisturizer right after bathing. During cold, dry weather, apply moisturizer several times a day.
- Expose your skin to small amounts of sunlight. A small amount of sun can help, but too much can trigger or worsen outbreaks, and increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol. Both can trigger outbreaks, and alcohol consumption may decrease the effectiveness of some psoriasis treatments.
- Eat a healthy diet. A good diet is essential to keeping the immune system healthy. This includes a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. If you eat meat, choose lean cuts and fish. Keep a food diary to track which foods seem make your psoriasis symptoms better or worse.
National Psoriasis Foundation: http://www.psoriasis.org/
Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psoriasis/DS00193