Psoriasis: Facts and Myths

Written & Researched by Parkhi Shah


  • Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells build up and form scales and itchy, dry patches.

  • It is thought to be an immune system problem. Triggers include infections, stress and cold.

  • The most common symptom is a rash on the skin, but sometimes the rash involves the nails or joints.

  • Treatment aims to remove scales and stop skin cells from growing so quickly. Topical ointments, light therapy and medication can offer relief.


Unlike other autoimmune diseases, psoriasis can be seen on the skin. For that reason, people often make assumptions about it without being knowledgeable about the condition. They wonder if psoriasis plaques are contagious—which they aren’t—or if psoriasis only affects people with low hygiene, which also isn’t true. Another myth is that psoriasis causes their skin symptoms, which is also false.


These various misconceptions about psoriasis can take a toll on the people living with the condition and affect their self-confidence, mental health and even their relationships. Dispelling them can bring about a better understanding of the condition and the effect it has on people.


Following are some misconceptions or myths about psoriasis that need to get unveiled asap!


Myth 1: ‘There Is Only One Type of Psoriasis’


FACT: Contradictory to the misconception, there are 7 types of psoriasis (Plaque Psoriasis, Guttate Psoriasis, Inverse Psoriasis, Pustular Psoriasis, Scalp Psoriasis, Nail Psoriasis, Psoriatic Erythroderma).


The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis. It affects from 80 to 90 percent of the people who have psoriasis. The four common types of psoriasis include guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis.


Plaque psoriasis is characterized by thick red patches of skin that have a white or sliver scaly layer. The patches—called plaques—appear anywhere on the body, but they are most commonly seen on the elbows, knees, low back, and scalp. Plaques vary in size. Some are large and cover large areas of the body. Scratching can make patches even more inflamed and cause them to bleed.


The other types of psoriasis are also unique in their symptoms and require different types of treatment.



Myth 2: ‘Psoriasis Is Contagious’


FACT: Because psoriasis plaques show up on the skin, many people think the condition is contagious. Psoriasis is a problem with the immune system, where the body’s defences overact and cause the body to try to fight off viruses, bacteria, and foreign invaders in and outside the body that do not exist.


That means you cannot catch the condition from someone who has it. You cannot catch it by brushing against that person, swimming in the same water, or by hugging, kissing, or having any sort of sexual contact with that person. A person with psoriasis didn’t get the condition from someone else, and they cannot give it to others.


Misconceptions like this one make it harder for people with the condition. People with psoriasis feel shame and discomfort when people stare at their skin plaques or avoid touching them or being around them. They may try to hide skin patches under long clothing to avoid such embarrassment.



Myth 3: ‘Psoriasis Is Caused by Poor Hygiene’


FACT: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease and has nothing to do with poor hygiene. It is neither caused nor worsened by poor hygiene. Much like other illnesses of the immune system, people who have the condition have a genetic tendency to develop it. If someone in your family has psoriasis, you may have the genes to develop the condition. But even with the right genes, there still needs to be something that triggers the disease. This could be anything from a physical illness to a skin injury or even extreme stress, or certain medication. Once something triggers psoriasis, it is either short-lived or life-long. If it is life-long, there are often treatments to control it.



Myth 4: ‘Psoriasis Is Just Dry Skin’


FACT: Too many people consider psoriasis a dry skin condition. Some think it is a cosmetic condition that can easily be treated with lotions and soaps. This is false.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that causes raised, inflamed, scaly patches to build on the skin. In people with psoriasis, inflammatory proteins cause skin cells to regenerate and mature at faster rates. The result is skin cells growing too fast, moving up to the skin’s surface, and piling up as white scales (dead cells). This expedited process does not give skin cells enough time to flake off, so they add up and cause patches of excess skin to build up.


Thirty per cent of people with psoriasis may go on to develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA), an inflammatory joint disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling of joints, and whole-body inflammation.



Myth 5: ‘Psoriasis Is Curable’


FACT: There is no cure for psoriasis yet, but treatment can help a person get relief from symptoms associated with the disease. In many cases, psoriasis goes away and flares up again. Specific triggers, such as cold weather, drinking alcohol, smoking, stress, skin injuries, illness, and more, can trigger psoriasis flares. If you have a weakened immune system, you may experience more severe symptoms and have more frequent flares.


A weakened immune system occurs in people with other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a type of autoimmune arthritis, or those who take certain medications, such as those used to treat cancer. While there is currently no cure for psoriasis, research shows people who take biological therapies can see significant improvement in skin symptoms and some may even achieve complete clearance of skin symptoms for five years or longer. Biological therapies are systemic medications, which means they work throughout the body. They are known for targeting parts of the immune system responsible for psoriasis.



Myth 6: ‘If You Have Psoriasis, So Will Your Child’


FACT: Psoriasis is a heredity condition, but it does not necessarily mean that you will pass it on to your children. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, around 10 percent of people inherit one or more of the genes associated with psoriasis. However, less than 3 percent of the population will develop the condition.


The reasons some people do not develop psoriasis are because they don’t have the right collection of genes and they have not been exposed to specific triggers. This means that both environmental factors and genes play a role in whether a person develops psoriasis. This also means that just because you have psoriasis does not mean your child will develop the condition. Their risk for psoriasis is increased, but only if other risk factors are present and trigger the disease.



References:

Barhum, Lana. “Addressing 6 Common Myths about Psoriasis.” Verywell Health, 28 Jan. 2020, www.verywellhealth.com/common-psoriasis-myths-4780006#research-on-psoriasis-myths.


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