Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder from which more than seven million Americans suffer. Most cases aren’t crippling or debilitating, but they can be intensely uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and embarrassing due to the disfiguring pustules, welts, and scaling skin. The condition results from the body’s over-eager defensive response to irritants on the skin, with agents of the immune system rushing to attack irritants which alight on the skin, as if those irritants were major threats. The immune response can result in physical reactions as minimal as a dandruff-like flaking of the skin to more severe plaques of crusted dead skin.
The condition has been attributed to any number of causes, although none of them are definitively identified as a primary cause. Hereditary susceptibility may be a factor, and outbreaks may also be triggered by stress. Dry weather can exacerbate an outbreak, and some sufferers believe allergies to be a trigger. Other possible causes may be adverse reactions to medications or infection resulting from damage to skin.
Types of Psoriasis, and Treatment Options
Treatments used generally for any type of psoriasis include medicated tar, aloe combined with sea salt, and topical medicated ointments, which are available over the counter in pharmacy areas of many stores. The condition may become resistant to any one treatment, so patients often rotate the various treatment options to ensure they remain effective.
Psoriasis of the scalp can cause scaling and scabbing of the skin on the scalp, often resulting in hair loss. In mild cases, tar products, topical medicated ointments, or salicylic acid can be applied to the scalp, rubbing through the hair. More severe cases may be addressed with ultraviolet light treatments or systemic prescriptions, taken either orally or by injection.
Facial Psoriasis most often affects the areas around the eyebrows and forehead, and the skin between the mouth and nose. A patient needs to be cautious in treating the area around the eyes so as to avoid eye damage; washing with warm water and mild baby shampoo is a common approach. Topically applied steroids can also alleviate the problem, although this approach should be monitored closely by a physician to avoid adverse effects (such as glaucoma or cataracts) resulting from the exposure of the eyes to steroids. Several products, both over-the-counter and prescription are available to counteract psoriasis, and some drugs which were intended for eczema can also be effective against psoriasis. Ultraviolet light treatments may also be used on facial psoriasis.
Alternative Therapies To Get Rid of Psoriasis
Herbalists and naturopaths recommend applications of a mixture of lavender and olive oils, or bergamot and comfrey oils, to the scaly patches. Yarrow oil added to bath water is also said to help reduce scaling. A combination of the tinctures of burdock, sarsaparilla, and cleavers in equal parts, taken in doses of 1 teaspoon three times a day, may also be helpful.
Eliminate lesions with licorice. Licorice root contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds. Check at your local health food store for licorice tincture or some other licorice extract. Using a cotton ball or a clean cloth, apply the liquid directly to your psoriasis lesions, suggests James A. Duke, Ph.D.
Soothe sore skin with chamomile. Like licorice, chamomile contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help relieve psoriasis flare-ups.
To make a chamomile compress, add 1 heaping teaspoon of chamomile flowers (sold in health food stores) to 1 cup of boiled water. Allow to steep for 10 minutes, then strain out the herb. Soak a clean cloth in the liquid, then apply the cloth to the affected skin.
Assuage psoriasis with aloe. In a study, Swedish researchers found that 83 percent of people using aloe cream reported significant relief. Some health food stores carry aloe cream. If you’re able to buy the cream over the counter, use it according to package directions. Otherwise, consult an herbalist or naturopath.
Warm compresses applied to affected skin for several minutes each day may be soothing. Some people with severe psoriasis have traveled to the Dead Sea area in Israel for special water and sun treatment. Sun bathing in this locale is beneficial because of its unique geography, 1,300 feet below sea level. At this altitude, the concentration of ultraviolet A light rays is higher than anywhere else on earth. Salt and mud mixtures from this region are also sold as treatments for psoriasis.
[ Read: How To Use Banana Peel To Cure Psoriasis ]
Send protein packing. Eating fewer protein-rich foods-primarily meats and dairy products-may help alleviate flare-ups, several studies show.
Switching from a high-protein diet to a low-protein, largely vegetarian diet has another advantage. Grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are packed with fiber, and fiber escorts psoriasis-triggering chemicals out of the intestines.
Favor fishy fare. If you cut back on meats, don’t stop eating fish, specifically cold-water species such as salmon, mackerel, and herring. These contain an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, whose potent anti-inflammatory properties can help ease a psoriasis flare-up. Joseph Pizzorno Jr., N.D., advises people with psoriasis to eat a serving of cold-water fish every day.
Get fish oil in a pill. Researchers around the world have tested fish-oil supplements as a treatment for psoriasis, often with excellent results. Look for fish-oil supplements that supply both eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. (On labels, these compounds may be listed as EPA and DHA.) Take four to six capsules every day, advises clinical nutritionist Shari Lieberman, Ph.D.
Heal with beta-carotene. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin. But in too-large doses, the vitamin can have serious side effects. A safer alternative is beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A. “I’ve found beta-carotene useful in treating psoriasis,” Dr. Lieberman says. Take 25,000 international units (IV) once a day.
Because stress is known to provoke psoriasis, this and other relaxation techniques can be preventive.
Although it has not been proved that psoriasis is related to food allergies or sensitivities, some people appear to benefit from dietary changes. To identify possible offenders, eliminate a food or group of foods for a few weeks to see if there is any improvement. Then return the food to the diet; if it produces a flare up, it may well play a role in triggering psoriasis. High doses of vitamin D have been found effective for treating psoriasis. Because this approach is still experimental, patients should not attempt to treat themselves with it.
Put a lid on Pitta. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that most inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis, result from excess Pitta dosha, according to David Frawley, O.M.D.
To treat psoriasis, Ayurvedic practitioners often prescribe applying emollients such as sesame oil, aloe vera gel, and an Ayurvedic herb called bakuchi. The herb contains psoralens, the compounds that slow skin cell division and inhibit the scaling characteristic of psoriasis.
Among the most effective prescription psoriasis medications is a topical preparation called anthralin (Anthra-Derm). Using anthralin can be quite an elaborate regimen, but by following this regimen every day for about 3 weeks, your psoriasis may go into remission for up to 6 months.
Coaltar ointments are an old standby in psoriasis treatment. These ointments are sold over the counter in 1 percent to 5 percent strengths.
Prescription-strength hydrocortisone creams (such as Nutracort) are another option. They’re more potent than their overthe-counter relatives and may cause more serious side effects.
Two topical psoriasis preparations seem to have fewer side effects than hydrocortisone creams. One of these preparations, called calcipotriene (Dovonex), is derived from vitamin D. It slows skin-cell turnaround, which prevents the formation of skin patches. The other, called tazarotene (Tazorac), appears to produce prolonged psoriasis remissions. It’s especially effective when used in conjunction with moisturizers and ultraviolet light therapy.
Certain oral medications can also help heal psoriasis. Among the most effective are etretinate (Tegison), a vitamin A derivative, and methotrexate (Folex), which is used in cancer chemotherapy. Both drugs can cause significant side effects.
Finally, some doctors advise people with psoriasis to try a combination treatment involving the drug psoralen and ultraviolet light therapy. This treatment, called PUVA, has been known to raise the risk of a certain type of skin cancer if used for several years. But a newer form of light therapy, called 311 nanometer therapy, appears to be just as effective as ultraviolet light therapy but less likely to cause skin cancer. If your doctor recommends PUVA, ask him about the newer form of treatment.
Mild cases often can be controlled with diligent self care that includes regular use of lubricants such as white petrolatum or a vegetable shortening. Using an oatmeal soap and adding a cup of sea salt to bath water may also help. If scaling persists, nonprescription cortisone cream or coal tar ointments, creams, or shampoos, such as Pentrax lotion, Sebutone cream or solution, can be tried. Their use should be checked beforehand with a dermatologist, but a typical regimen calls for applying the cream or lotion at night, covering it with plastic wrap, washing it off in the morning, and then exposing the skin to the sun or artificial ultraviolet light. Thick scalp plaques can be treated with overnight applications of a solution of mineral oil and 10 percent salicylic acid. To enhance the effectiveness and keep the preparation off bedding, wear a shower cap to bed, Judicious exposure to the sun often helps, but care is needed because too much sun can worsen psoriasis.
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Psoriasis appearing on the feet and hands may cause difficulties due to the usage of these parts in daily life. Cracked skin, pustules, blisters, and swelling can prove impediments to the use of hands; and the usage of hands, in turn, can aggravate the psoriasis condition. Sometimes the symptoms can be eased by soaking hands with bath oils or an oatmeal immersion, gently rubbing at the scaly areas to remove scaly buildup, and applying medicated moisturizers, possibly including tar compounds, topical steroids, or salicylic acid. It may also help to apply medicated moisturizers and then wear cotton gloves or socks to bed in order to maximize the effectiveness of the moisturizer overnight.
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