9 Common Psoriasis Myths That Need to Be Debunked
The inflammatory skin disease psoriasis affects more than 3 percent of the adult population in the United States—that’s more than 7.5 million people. Public awareness is increasing, but there are still many misconceptions that need to be cleared up to remove the stigma and make life a little easier for people with psoriasis.
Here are some of the common psoriasis myths that need to be debunked. (Feel free to share the facts with family and friends who should know the truth.)
Myth #1: Psoriasis is caused by poor hygiene.
Because psoriasis is a visible disease that manifests as dry, scaly plaques on the skin, many people think poor hygiene is a factor. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Fact: It’s a combo of genetics and environmental factors.
“The cause of psoriasis is thought to be multifactorial. We know that genetic factors play an important role, along with inflammation,” says Tanya Nino, M.D., a dermatologist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California.
Stress, hormones, injury to the skin, and some medications may also worsen psoriasis.
Myth #2: Psoriasis is contagious.
Sometimes, psoriasis plaques can crack and bleed, which makes some people think the skin is infected—and therefore contagious.
Fact: You can’t catch psoriasis from someone who has it.
Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease characterized by inflammation caused by dysfunction of the immune system, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. It is not an infection. So you can never “catch” psoriasis through contact with someone who has the disease.
Myth #3: Psoriasis is easy to recognize.
Psoriasis looks like scaly, flaky skin, right? Not always.
Fact: There are different types of psoriasis with very different symptoms.
There are five main types of psoriasis (plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular, and erythrodermic) and they all look different. For example, plaque psoriasis, the most common type, appears as red, scaly, flaky skin usually on the scalp, elbows, and knees; while guttate psoriasis is characterized by small, raised, scaly, teardrop-shaped spots all over the body.
Psoriasis is often mistaken for eczema, another inflammatory skin condition. It’s not always easy to tell the difference, particularly in children. Eczema typically appears on the inside of joints, like on the inner elbows and knees, while psoriasis tends to be on the outside of these joints. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there can be an overlap between the two when a person has both eczema and psoriasis, a phenomenon known as PsEma.
Myth #4: Psoriasis is simply a skin condition.
Because plaques and pustules are visible to others, some people may assume it’s similar to acne and just affects the skin.
Fact: Psoriasis can affect the whole body.
Anybody with psoriasis will tell you that it goes much deeper than the surface of the skin. There are a host of comorbidities—associated health conditions—with which people with psoriasis may also be dealing. The most common associated risk is psoriatic arthritis, which affects about 30 percent of people with psoriasis and causes joint pain and swelling.
“Psoriasis has also been shown to be associated with obesity, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and diabetes,” says Nino. And there’s a mental health component, too. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, people with psoriasis are twice as likely to have depression as the rest of the population.
Myth #5: There is no treatment for psoriasis.
There are plenty of ways to keep psoriasis symptoms at bay.
Fact: There’s a variety of safe and effective treatments.
Mild psoriasis is generally treated with topical prescription medications, such as topical steroids, calcineurin inhibitors, calcipotriene, and others. While moderate and severe psoriasis can also be treated with topical creams and ointments, there are other options, too.
“Phototherapy, which is a light-based treatment, is often used and is very safe,” says John Zampella, M.D., an assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health. “And there are now many targeted therapies that address the underlying inflammation of psoriasis.” These include oral medications and injectable medications known as biologics. Zampella notes that while biologics are super effective at treating psoriasis, they do alter the immune system and, as such, are prescribed with some caution.
Keeping track of your symptoms and medication history will help you and your doctor figure out the best treatment for you.
Myth #6: There is a cure for psoriasis.
No, there’s no cure for it. But even though psoriasis is a chronic (lifelong) condition, many people experience flares of the disease followed by periods of clear skin, known as remission.
Fact: It’s a chronic condition that can be managed.
Psoriasis flare-ups can come and go. In addition to finding the right treatment, many people find that making healthy lifestyle choices and avoiding their own personal psoriasis triggers helps them keep flares at bay.
“Lifestyle triggers for psoriasis can include smoking and excessive alcohol intake, and some patients report that their psoriasis is worse with stress,” says Nino.
Myth #7: Only adults get psoriasis.
Adults aren’t the only ones who get psoriasis, though the condition is more common in adults than in children.
Fact: People of any age can have psoriasis.
The disease has two common peaks of onset: the first at age 20 to 30 years; and, the second at age 50 to 60 years, according to JAMA Dermatology. But kids can have it, too—and it can begin at any age.
Guttate psoriasis is the type most common in children, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It often appears during or after a child has an infection, such as strep throat.
Myth #8: Psoriasis is preventable.
While certain risk factors for psoriasis, such as managing stress levels, reducing alcohol intake, and avoiding or quitting smoking, may help prevent psoriasis flares, there’s a genetic component to the condition that we can’t control.
Fact: Some people are simply predisposed to it.
“The type of inflammation with psoriasis is very specific and is mediated by a special type of white blood cell called a TH17 cell,” explains Zampella. “The inflammatory process that leads to psoriasis has a genetic root cause or predisposition. For this reason, psoriasis can run in families.” About one-third of patients with psoriasis have family members with psoriasis.
Myth #9: Changing your diet will get rid of psoriasis.
It’s great to take a holistic approach to your health, which includes looking at lifestyle and diet. And some people have seen a huge improvement in their psoriasis symptoms after eliminating certain foods (and drinks)—the most common ones reported in a survey for the National Psoriasis Foundation were alcohol, gluten, and nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers.
Fact: Diet isn’t a miracle cure.
The survey answers were self-reported and science hasn’t exactly proven that dietary changes can clear psoriasis. The Mediterranean diet has shown promise in lowering psoriasis severity, and so has weight loss, in people who are overweight or obese.
In the end, what works for one person might not work for the next. Also, dietary adjustments are big lifestyle changes, which don’t come easy to everyone.
If you want to make changes to your diet as part of your psoriasis management plan, be patient and don’t think of it as a cure. It’s also a good idea to work with a registered dietitian who can help you ensure you get all the necessary nutrients for your overall physical and mental health. Also, loop in your doctor in case some of your supplements may interact with other medications you may be taking for your psoriasis or other conditions.
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