August is Psoriasis Awareness Month.
The month marks a series of campaigns to raise awareness about the common skin condition and to provide support for the millions of people who suffer from it around the world.
According to the Irish Skin Foundation, at least 73,000 people across the country are living with psoriasis.
And understandably, plenty of those people have been Google searching the condition over the years – to try and educate themselves, to find treatments, and even to figure out if they have it.
So, in order to learn more about psoriasis, we turned to Bupa UK’s dermatology clinical lead Dr Stephanie Munn.
She filled us in on all of the answers to some of the most common queries about the skin condition.
1. What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a skin condition that a person can develop at any age.
It is a chronic illness that affects a person’s skin cells and causes them to grow faster than a regular rate, often leading to red, crusty patches on the skin.
According to Dr Munn, the condition occurs in around two in every one hundred people in the UK.
“For people without psoriasis, skin cells shed their top layer and replace themselves with new ones around every twenty-three days,” she says.
“If you have psoriasis, this skin cell cycle occurs at a much more frequent rate.”
2. What are the symptoms of psoriasis?
There are many different kinds of psoriasis that come with a variety of symptoms, but most of them tend to be characterised by thickened red patches on the skin.
These patches are called plaques and vary in size and location on the body.
3. What helps psoriasis?
Although psoriasis cannot be cured entirely, there are many different treatments and medicines available to effectively manage the symptoms.
Prescribed creams, shampoos, tablets, and injections can all ease the symptoms of the condition, depending on what type of psoriasis a person has.
Dr Munn also recommends some over-the-counter creams that can help with the condition – especially when applied right after a shower or bath.
4. Is psoriasis painful?
The condition can be painful during a particularly bad flare-up, causing changes to the skin that could lead to itching or sores.
These changes are generally most painful when on the scalp or near the groin.
More severe cases, called plaque psoriasis, can cause the skin around a person’s joints to crack and bleed.
5. Can psoriasis spread?
No, psoriasis is not contagious so it cannot be spread from one person to another.
However, a person with psoriasis could find that the infection spreads from one part of their own body to another.
6. What is psoriasis caused by?
Dr Munn says that although there is “no definitive answer” as to why some people develop psoriasis and others don’t, the condition can be triggered by environmental factors and certain genes.
However, if a person’s family member has psoriasis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that person will develop it too.
7. Can psoriasis go away?
No, not entirely.
There is no out-right cure for psoriasis which means that a person who suffers from the condition will have it for the rest of their life.
However, sometimes a person may not have any symptoms and other times they will be experience flare-ups, causing the plaques to return to the skin.
8. Is psoriasis a fungus?
No, it’s not.
Dr Munn says that although fungal infections can cause scaly plaques, they tend to appear on different parts of the body and are generally a lot smaller.
“Psoriasis is caused by inflammation and does not occur due to an infection from a fungus,” she says.
“Furthermore, the two conditions have two separate causes: fungal infections are contagious; psoriasis isn’t.”
9. Is psoriasis an autoimmune disease?
Yes, psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system, which leads to skin inflammation and skin tissue growing at a faster rate than usual.
Dr Munn says that the condition is a result of the immune system malfunctioning, where it “can’t distinguish between your own skin cells and other cells that could make you ill, i.e. antigens like bacteria and viruses.
“This results in your body mistakenly trying to protect you from your own skin cells, which causes the inflammation.”
10. Can stress cause psoriasis?
While stress cannot cause psoriasis, it can lead to flare-ups in people who already have the condition.
“For others who may have a tendency towards the condition, it could cause the symptoms to present themselves,” says Dr Munn.
“Along with stress, there are other external triggers that may cause a flare-up, including smoking, drinking too much alcohol and throat infections.”
You can find out more about psoriasis, and the different treatments available, here.