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Psoriasis Awareness Month

It all started as a pesky little scale on my forearm. At the time, I thought, “Must be dry skin; I live in Colorado.” Initially, it stayed small, and when I went in for my annual wellness check, my doctor told me it looked like psoriasis. At the time, it was such a small spot that no prescriptions were given, but they said to “start using a more heavy-duty moisturizing cream.”

Fast-forward to 2019-2020, and what started as a small, pesky little scale had spread like wildfire all over my body and itched like crazy. The second I would scratch, it would bleed. I looked like I had been mauled by a bear (or at least that is how I perceived how I looked). It felt like my skin was on fire, my clothes hurt, and I was so embarrassed. I remember going in to get a pedicure (what should be a relaxing experience), and the person doing the pedicure looked at the psoriasis patches on both of my legs with a disgusted look on her face. I had to tell her I wasn’t contagious. I was mortified.

So what is psoriasis, and why am I telling you about it? Well, August is Psoriasis Awareness Month, a month to educate the public about psoriasis and share important information about its causes, treatment, and how to live with it.

What is psoriasis? It is a skin disease where there is a dysfunction in the immune system and causes skin cells to multiply up to ten times faster than usual. This leads to patches on the skin that are scaly and inflamed. It most commonly appears on the elbows, knees, scalp, and trunk, but it can be anywhere on the body. While the cause is unclear, it is believed to be a combination of things, and genetics and the immune system are key players in the development of psoriasis. In addition, there are certain things that may trigger psoriasis, such as injury, infection, certain medications, stress, alcohol, and tobacco.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis affects approximately 3% of the U.S. adult population, which is about 7.5 million adults. Anyone can get psoriasis, but it is more common in adults than in children. There are different types of psoriasis; the most common type is plaque. People with psoriasis may also get psoriatic arthritis; the National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that about 10% to 30% of people with psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis.

How is it diagnosed? Your health care provider may ask you questions about your symptoms, family history, and lifestyle. In addition, your health care provider may examine your skin, scalp, and nails. In some instances, your provider may also take a small biopsy from your skin to identify what type of psoriasis and rule out other types of health conditions.

How is it treated? Depending on the severity, your health care provider may recommend topical (on the skin) creams or ointments, light therapy (phototherapy), oral medications, injectables, or a combination of those.

While psoriasis is a lifelong disease, it can go into remission and then flare up again. There are steps you can take in addition to the treatments mentioned above to manage psoriasis, such as:

  • Limiting or avoiding foods that may make psoriasis worse, such as:
    • Alcohol
    • Foods with added sugar
    • Gluten
    • Dairy
    • High-processed foods
    • Foods high in saturated and trans fats
  • Finding ways to manage stress, such as exercising, journaling, meditating, and other self-care activities that support stress management
  • Ensuring you are getting enough sleep
  • Taking shorter showers or baths with warm water and use a soap that is free of allergens and suitable for sensitive skin. Also, avoid drying your skin out too much, and pat dry – do not rub your skin too hard.
  • Applying thick creams to help support and moisturize your skin
  • Finding mental health support, because dealing with a disease like psoriasis can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression
  • Tracking things that you notice make your psoriasis worse
  • Finding a support group

It has been a long journey. Due to the severity of my psoriasis, I have been seeing a dermatologist (a doctor who treats skin conditions) for the past few years to figure out what the best treatment is for me (it really is ongoing at this point). It can be a frustrating and lonely place sometimes when you feel like nothing is working and your skin is on fire. I am fortunate to have a great support system from my family (shoutout to my husband), a dermatologist, and a nutritionist. I now don’t get embarrassed going to my son’s school when a child points at a patch and asks, “What’s that?” I explain that I have a condition where my immune system (the system that protects me from getting sick) gets a little too excited and makes too much skin, it is OK, and I take medicine to help. I am now not ashamed to wear clothes where people will see the patches and have embraced them as part of me (don’t get me wrong, it is still hard), and I choose not to let the condition rule me or limit the things I do. For anyone out there who is struggling, I encourage you to reach out to your health care provider – if a treatment isn’t working, let them know and see what other options may exist, surround yourself with supportive people, and LOVE YOURSELF and the skin you are in.