Psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, can be triggered by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stress and anxiety.
Other triggers of this autoimmune disease that can affect both children and adults and typically occurs between the ages of 15 and 45, include:
Skin injury, severe sunburn
Viral/bacterial infections, particularly streptococcal throat infection
Certain medications (e.g. antimalarial drugs, beta blockers)
Exposure to sunlight or cold temperature
An estimated 40,000 people suffer from psoriasis in Singapore, according to the Psoriasis Association of Singapore, which notes that the chronic disease is “... neither infectious nor contagious. It cannot be passed on to other persons. It is not caused by poor standards of hygiene.”
In psoriasis – the most common type is plaque psoriasis – your skin cells multiply rapidly, with new cells being produced every 3-7 days instead of the normal 3-4 weeks. Cells that are not fully mature build up on the surface of the skin and develop into bumpy red patches covered with loose dandruff-like silvery scales.
Other symptoms include dry, cracked skin that bleeds easily and itchy, sore, inflamed skin.
In severe cases, you may experience symptoms such as:
Stiff, swollen and disfigured joints
Thick, ridged and discoloured nails that may separate from the nail bed
Psoriasis often begins in the scalp and spreads to other areas such as the knees, elbows and lower back. Symptoms may come and go in a cyclical manner, and you can even be symptom-free for several years.
Psoriasis can raise your risk of becoming obese and developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease as well as other autoimmune diseases (e.g. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease). You are also at risk of becoming depressed and having emotional problems related to low self-esteem.
Diagnosing and treating psoriasis
Your doctor will diagnose psoriasis by doing a physical exam and taking your medical history.
Treatment is aimed at slowing down the rapid turnover of cells and managing your symptoms so that you can lead a normal life. Psoriasis cannot be cured.
Mild cases of psoriasis can be treated with corticosteroid ointments while more severe cases may require topical treatment along with light therapy (using natural or artificial ultraviolet light) and oral or injected medication.
You can prevent a flare-up of psoriasis symptoms by:
identifying and avoiding your triggers
making lifestyle changes, e.g. limiting alcohol consumption (alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of treatment); bathing daily with lukewarm water and mild soap (this calms inflamed skin)