Let’s get the really bad news out of the way first, which is that there is no cure for psoriasis. It’s a chronic condition and its symptoms can be better or worse at different times. However, there is plenty of good news too, starting with the fact that psoriasis is usually a mild condition that can be treated when the symptoms do flare up.
For information on what that treatment involves, as well as advice on how to recognise whether you have psoriasis, we spoke to Dr Dev Shah, a consultant dermatologist from the London Doctors Clinic.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that involves a rapid turnover of skin cells and creates a red, flaky rash. Psoriasis comes in many forms. The classic form involves well-defined plaques of psoriasis occurring over the elbows, knees and scalp. Guttate psoriasis typically presents as multiple small red areas over the chest and back, often in association with a sore throat. More severe forms can involve the whole body and affect your joints and nails.
How common is psoriasis?
It affects about 1-2% of the UK population.
How do you recognise it and distinguish it from other skin conditions?
It has well defined scaly patches of skin with thick scales that are usually mildly itchy, and it has typical areas that are affected such as elbows and knees. Most other skin rashes are usually not so well defined in terms of both appearance and areas of the body that are affected.
Can psoriasis be irritated by make-up, or certain types of moisturisers?
Not really, because psoriasis is an autoimmune condition not typically allergic in nature, unlike eczema. Make-up can sometimes be used to cover up psoriasis on a cosmetic level. Used regularly, moisturiser can actually help to prevent psoriasis from returning and make the condition feel less irritating. I recommend a good moisturiser such as Epaderm to patients.
How do you treat psoriasis?
Remember we can control psoriasis but not really cure it. Initially treatment starts with steroid ointments, with varying mixtures of coal tar and vitamin D. UVB light can help some people, and immunosuppressants such as methotrexate are very effective.
More recently, a targeted approach using expensive immunotherapy has revolutionised psoriasis treatment. These latest medications are reserved for the most severe cases.
How long does it usually take to clear up?
It depends on treatment and risk factors. Patients who treat their psoriasis early respond quicker. Factors that make treatment less effective are obesity, alcohol, stress and smoking. Stress is a major factor with psoriasis and therefore having a holistic approach to treating psoriasis often results in a better outcome. Mild forms usually respond in four to eight weeks, but more severe cases can take a lot longer.
Is psoriasis something you should always go to the doctor about, or can you get treatments from a pharmacy?
You should really do both. Pharmacies will be able to advise on emollients and mild steroids, but it would be better to see your GP so that prescription meds can be initiated if necessary.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.