Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis and about 80 percent of people with psoriasis have this form. It presents as silvery plaques on the skin. The plaques can appear anywhere, but they’re most often found on the elbows, the knees, the trunk and the scalp. The plaques are the build-up of dead skin cells. The skin cells of people with psoriasis die before they become fully mature, but don’t shed. Medical experts believe that this is due to the action of white blood cells. Only when the plaques are formed do the dead cells start to shed, and then they shed profusely. This causes itching and redness. Sometimes, pulling at the dead skin causes slight bleeding that shows up as a tiny drop of blood. This is the Auspitz sign.
People also get psoriasis in their fingernails. It presents as pits in the nail, and the nail can also separate from the nail bed.
More Psoriasis Facts
Some good news about psoriasis is that it’s not contagious, and most people have long periods of remission. It affects people of both sexes and all races, but usually strikes when the person is a young adult. Unfortunately, psoriasis is not curable. Though it’s not strictly inherited, it tends to run in families.
What Can Be Done?
More good news about plaque psoriasis is that it can also be controlled by medication, and some people control it through light therapy. Dermatologists, who are doctors that specialize in conditions of the skin, prescribe creams, ointments, moisturizers and sprays to combat the itchy discomfort of plaque psoriasis. Creams include hydrocortisone, calcitriol and calcipotriene. Moisturizers include glycolic, lactic and salicylic acids and urea. Some people with milder forms of psoriasis find relief from plain old vaseline or vegetable shortening. Though it’s a bit messy, coal tar has also been shown to bring relief from plaque psoriasis symptoms. For plaques that don’t respond to this kind of conservative treatment, dermatologists administer steroid injections.
Others treatments are oral medications that affect the entire body, though these medications come with some risks. Some of them raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels and dry out the skin and eyes. Other oral medications taken for severe cases of psoriasis are also used by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers or organ transplant patients and can damage the kidneys or liver if taken for a long periods of time. To lower the risks of these drugs, some dermatologists rotate different medications every six months to two years. This isn’t necessary with new biologic medications.
Some people who are afflicted with psoriasis over large areas of their body resort to ultraviolet light therapy. UV light has been known to slow down the abnormally fast-growing skin cells. Both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B light are used, and they are often used with topical medications.
Biologic medications work by targeting those aspects of the immune system that cause the psoriasis. This is different from other drugs that affect the entire immune system. These drugs are fairly new, and more of them are being tested and placed on the market all the time.