If You Have Psoriasis, You May Feel All Alone

Rose has a skin problem: psoriasis. It's ongoing. The flare-ups are annoying, painful, and embarrassing. At times, she wears long sleeves and gloves because she does not want to draw attention to the dry, scaly patches on her arms and hands. The condition isn't contagious, but who wants to be asked, "what's wrong with your skin?"

Rose's doctor prescribed a topical steroidal cream; however, she is diabetic and steroid use is not conducive to good blood sugar control.

Rose balances psoriasis treatment with keeping her blood sugar under control. She sparingly uses the corticosteroid cream when the symptoms are particularly painful and annoying.

It is important to take care of all your chronic conditions while also taking care of your skin, and vice versa.

Did you know that your skin is your largest organ? Adults carry some 8 pounds and 22 square feet of it.

We hear a lot about taking care of our skin—apply moisturizer, limit sun exposure, etc. For Rose and many people who have psoriasis, there is not a lot of talk about skin. If you have psoriasis, you may feel you are all alone.

Did you know that psoriasis is the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the U.S., affecting the skin and joints of approximately 7.5 million Americans—2.2 percent of the population?

The word "psoriasis" comes from the Greek word psōra (itch). This chronic condition can range from very mild to very severe. Psoriasis takes many forms, and sometimes covers large areas of the body. Symptoms include:

  • Abnormal finger nails (pitted, thickened, ridged)
  • Red, scaly patches of skin
  • Small scaly spots (most common in children)
  • Painful, swollen joints
  • Itchy patches of skin
  • Dry, cracked skin
  • Skin patches that bleed
  • Skin lesions that flare up for a few weeks or months and then subside

It is important to have the facts. "The heartbreak of psoriasis," a phrase that emerged in a 1960s advertising campaign for medicated shampoo, has become inaccurately synonymous with dry, flaky skin. There’s more to it than that.  

Psoriasis begins in the immune system. Although psoriasis is a chronic (long-lasting) skin disease, skin sometimes gets better and other times gets worse. Infections, stress, changes in weather that dry the skin, and certain medications are among the things that can cause psoriasis to get worse. Many people with the condition have other complicating issues such as hypertension, depression, diabetes and heart disease.

What steps can you take?

Talk with your primary care physician, who may recommend that you see a dermatologist. Although there is no cure for psoriasis, individualized treatments can be effective. The most common treatment is topical corticosteroid medication; however, your doctor may recommend oral medications and light therapy if your case is severe.

If you are uninsured, you may find treatment through a free clinic or a hospital charity care program. Keep in mind that you may need to see a primary care provider at a free clinic before you can receive a referral to a specialist.

Here is information to help you get started looking for low-cost care:

Contributor Mary Patricia O'Leary, RN, BSN, a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County, has focused attention on education for individuals with chronic conditions. For more information, click here.

August is Psoriasis Awareness Month

The National Psoriasis Foundation sponsors National Psoriasis Awareness Month in August, a public education campaign highlighting the prevalence of the lifelong disease as well as its treatment.

For photos and testimonials from people living with psoriasis, and to learn more about coping strategies for the most common lifestyle concerns for people with psoriasis—stress reduction, managing itch, relationships, depression, and work—visit www.psoriasisawarenessmonth.org.