Over 8 million adults in the U.S. experience plaque psoriasis — a chronic autoimmune disease that causes painful, raised, scaly spots on the skin. People with plaque psoriasis often employ a host of strategies in their quest for relief. They might overhaul their diet, avoid the sun’s rays, practice stress reduction techniques, or experiment with holistic treatments that are trending on social media. And, of course, many keep a drawer full of messy creams ready to apply at the first sign of a plaque. People with mild psoriasis may be symptom-free for weeks or even months at a time, leading them to believe they’ve got their psoriasis figured out.
But despite all those efforts, psoriasis symptoms often return — and the struggle to manage them can feel unending. In addition to the physical discomfort, there’s stigma surrounding plaque psoriasis, not to mention the frustration of managing a chronic disease.
We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Soung, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical researcher in chronic autoimmune skin diseases, to discuss the cause of plaque psoriasis, dispel common myths, and discuss potential treatment options.
It’s More Than Skin Deep
One common myth around plaque psoriasis is that it’s “just” a skin disease. In fact, those itchy, scaly spots on your skin are the manifestation of a deeper issue.
“Plaque psoriasis is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your own skin cells, which then overproduce inflammatory proteins,” says Dr. Soung. “Those inflammatory proteins cause an overproduction of skin cells, creating the distinctive raised plaques.”
Plaque psoriasis is a chronic disease, meaning it tends to cyclically flare up, then go into remission throughout one’s life. Although there is no known cure, Dr. Soung says there are ways to effectively manage it (more on that later).
It’s Not Contagious
Another common misconception is that plaque psoriasis is contagious. In fact, it cannot be spread by skin contact — but, people with psoriasis can still be unfairly burdened by this myth. “My patients say to me, ‘Everyone stares at my plaques,’ or ‘People think I have something contagious,'” Dr. Soung says.
While the underlying cause of plaque psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, plaques often occur in response to specific triggers. “Some common triggers include severe stress, excessive drinking, smoking, being significantly overweight, sunburns, and direct skin trauma,” Dr. Soung explains.
Science vs. Social Media
Dr. Soung says several of her younger patients have experimented with trending remedies they see on social media to treat their plaque psoriasis, like applying yogurt, olive oil, or tea tree oil to their plaques, or trying “gut cleanses.” While these DIY remedies may provide temporary relief, they lack scientific backing and are not long-term options.
Topical Treatments and Systemic Options
For many people with plaque psoriasis, topical treatments like steroid creams are their first, and only, line of defense. A 2020 study showed that 58 percent of women with mild psoriasis used only topical treatments to manage it. But despite the popularity of topical treatments, they can also be messy, inconvenient to apply under clothing, and while they may provide symptomatic relief, they don’t address the root causes of psoriasis.
Another treatment category includes systemic treatments, like oral medications that target internal inflammation directly by decreasing the production of inflammatory proteins that attack the skin. Systemic treatments offer options for people whose plaque psoriasis remains uncontrolled with topicals, and help to manage plaque psoriasis.
While there is no cure, Dr. Soung believes there has never been a better range of treatment options for people with plaque psoriasis. “From topicals to oral and injectable treatments, we have so many different ways now to treat this and to help patients,” she says, and she’s seen amazing changes when people find a treatment plan that works.
Learn more about plaque psoriasis by visiting PsomethingDifferent.com. Dr. Soung was compensated for her participation in the article.
Image Source: Design: Allie Pakrosnis