How to Treat Plaque Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease. It’s characterized by the rapid buildup of cells on the surface of the skin. Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis. This form of psoriasis causes “plaques,” or dry, red skin lesions with white scales on the surface. This disease is not contagious, but it can be painful, itchy, or get in the way of daily living.

Plaque psoriasis is extremely common, with three million new cases a year in the U.S. alone. While there is no cure for it, multiple treatment options exist, and these treatments continue to improve as more research is conducted to understand this disease.

Causes

The exact cause of plaque psoriasis is unknown. The prevailing scientific theory is that it’s a hereditary autoimmune condition that becomes active with the right environmental trigger. Some of these triggers include:

  • Bacterial skin infection
  • Increased levels of stress
  • Smoking
  • Skin injury
  • Certain medications such as NSAIDs, lithium, or beta-blockers

Symptoms

Plaque psoriasis is a chronic disease that can last anywhere from several years to a person’s entire lifetime. Symptoms often appear as “flare-ups” that go into remission after treatment. The severity and type of symptoms differ between individuals, but the appearance of raised, scaly bumps is usually the first sign of this disease. A mild case of plaque psoriasis might involve small, dandruff-like scales, while severe cases can have large, painful plaques covering large parts of the body. Other symptoms include:

  • Dry or cracked skin
  • Swollen or stiff joints
  • Burning, itching sensation

Treatment

A doctor must diagnose the condition before treatment can begin. Unfortunately, science has yet to develop a cure for plaque psoriasis. Therefore, treating this disease entails managing symptoms and avoiding triggers. Many treatment options are available depending on the severity of each individual case. These treatment options are divided into three main categories.

Topical Treatments

Topical treatments include ointment-based products like retinoids, corticosteroids, coal tar, and salicylic acid. These products target the skin plaques directly by relieving inflammation and irritation. Other topical products like anthralin and synthetic vitamin D work by inhibiting skin cell growth. This can prevent a flare-up from getting worse and new lesions from forming.

Light Therapy

Light therapy involves exposing the affected skin to either natural sunlight or controlled doses of UVA or UVB light. This type of intervention also slows skin cell growth while soothing symptoms. It’s often administered by a medical professional at a frequency of two or three times a week. Light therapy is recommended for cases that can’t be improved with topical treatments alone. It can be an effective treatment for psoriasis especially when combined with other therapies.

Systemic Treatment

Prescribed oral or injectable medications fall under the umbrella of systemic treatment. Systemic treatment often comes with severe side effects. Therefore, it’s usually reserved for severe cases that can’t be improved through topical or light therapy. Orally administered retinoids and methotrexate inhibit skin cell growth and inflammation, while immunosuppressants like cyclosporine prevent the immune system response that triggers psoriasis flare-ups. Due to severe side effects, injectable drugs are normally reserved as a last resort intervention for plaque psoriasis.

Home Remedies

Fortunately, mild symptoms of plaque psoriasis can be addressed with home remedies. Short periods of sun exposure can alleviate symptoms as long as the exposure doesn’t lead to sunburn, one of the environmental triggers of psoriasis. Hydrocortisone creams or products containing tar can be applied topically to manage symptoms, as well. Finally, unscented moisturizers can relieve some of the irritation and dryness that results from psoriasis.

Preventing Flare-Ups

Once the condition is diagnosed, the symptoms are likely to appear again and again. Avoiding skin trauma is the best way to prevent the reappearance of plaque psoriasis. Sunburns, cuts and scrapes, poison ivy, and bacteria can all trigger psoriasis flare-ups, so affected individuals should take extreme care when they’re exposed to these triggers. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and stressful situations can also trigger flare-ups, so they should also be limited or avoided as much as possible.

The effects of psoriasis can range from mildly inconvenient to absolutely debilitating. Fortunately, the disease responds well to treatment, and the prognosis is very good in most cases. Through a combination of medical intervention and prevention, most people with the condition live normal, fulfilling lives. People who suspect they have plaque psoriasis should seek a doctor for an official diagnosis and to learn about appropriate treatment options.