Red, scaly skin: Should you be concerned?

Dry, scaly skin is a common winter annoyance for many. But some people experience those symptoms year-round — with more frequency and more intensity. These individuals could be living with plaque psoriasis, a disease that forms a red, scaly rash on the body.

Dermatologists believe that psoriasis is a type of autoimmune disease where the body fights its own skin and joints. The result is inflammation at the skin level which leads to abnormally fast-growing skin cells — in the form of scales — that shed every couple of days. Psoriasis often appears on:

  • Arms
  • Elbows
  • Legs
  • Knees
  • Torso
  • Scalp

What causes psoriasis?

While this disease is not totally understood, scientists believe psoriasis is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Ten percent of the population have a gene or genes that could result in psoriasis. Since only two to three percent of people develop the condition, scientists know that external factors likely also play a role.

The factors that trigger psoriasis tend to be specific to the individual. Common triggers that can lead to a psoriasis flare-up include:

  • Allergens such as pollen or dander
  • Infection
  • Certain medications
  • Skin injury
  • Stress
  • Sunburn

Psoriasis takes different forms

While plaque psoriasis is the most common form, other types include:

  • Guttate psoriasis: Small, red spots on the skin; mostly affects children and is usually preceded by a sore throat
  • Pustular psoriasis: Pus-filled blisters on the body
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Joint inflammation and pain, similar to rheumatoid arthritis
  • Scalp psoriasis: Itchy, red or flaking skin on the scalp or forehead

Living with psoriasis

Having psoriasis and containing flare-ups can be challenging. Patients with psoriasis report that both itching and pain affect quality of life and interfere with work and relationships. Psoriasis sufferers are also more prone to depression.

To minimize the effects of psoriasis triggers, experts recommend incorporating coping strategies such as:

  • Yoga or meditation
  • Exercise
  • High quality diet and refraining from alcohol or tobacco use
  • Ample sleep
  • Counseling or therapy

Treatments are available for mild-to-severe plaque psoriasis

Treatments vary, depending on the patient and whether his or her psoriasis is mild or severe. Common treatments can include the following, used individually or in combination:

  • Over-the-counter moisturizers
  • Alternative or complementary therapies
  • Prescription creams or ointments
  • Light therapy
  • Systemic medications
  • Drugs that reduce the immune response that triggers psoriasis

Physicians in the UCLA Health Division of Dermatology treat all forms of psoriasis and offer a specialized psoriasis clinic in the Santa Monica office. Patients can call 310-825-6911 for more information or to schedule an appointment.


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