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Psoriasis


Psoriasis can be worrying, especially when you see your child struggle with itching or discomfort.

For most kids, psoriasis is limited to just a few patches that usually respond well to treatment. More serious cases might need more aggressive treatment. But the good news is that there are many options. If one treatment doesn't work, another probably will.

About Psoriasis

Psoriasis (suh-RYE-uh-sus) is a non-contagious disease that causes skin cells to build up on the surface of the skin, forming itchy red raised areas (plaques) and thick scales. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most commonly found on the scalp, knees, elbows, and torso.

Psoriasis is a long-lasting (chronic) condition that can get better or worse, seemingly at random. It may go away completely before suddenly reappearing.

For many kids, psoriasis is just a minor inconvenience; for others, though, it can be quite serious. Psoriasis can lead kids to feel self-conscious about their appearance. Sometimes that affects their emotions, and some kids may develop low self-esteem and even depression as a result.

Right now, there's no cure for psoriasis, but a number of good options are available to treat the symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight, also can help ease the symptoms.

Causes

Doctors aren't sure why people get psoriasis, but they do know how the disease works. White blood cells known as T lymphocytes or T cells are part of the immune system. They travel through the bloodstream fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other things that cause illnesses. When someone has psoriasis, however, T cells attack healthy skin as if they were trying to fight an infection or heal a wound.

Skin cells, which are made deep in the skin, normally take about a month to rise to the surface, where they die and are sloughed off. When psoriasis triggers T cells to attack healthy skin, the immune system responds by sending more blood to the area and making more skin cells and more white blood cells. This forces skin cells to rise to the surface in a few days instead of a month. The dead skin and white blood cells can't be shed quickly enough, and they build up on the surface of the skin as thick, red patches. As the skin cells die, they form silvery scales that eventually flake off.

Psoriasis isn't contagious. Some people inherit the genes that make them susceptible to having it. Many with psoriasis have an immediate family member who also has the disease.

Risk factors that can increase the chances of psoriasis outbreaks include:

Symptoms

People with psoriasis will most likely have one or more of these symptoms:

There are many different types of psoriasis that all have their own symptoms. Common types include:

Diagnosis

Usually, diagnosis of psoriasis is fairly straightforward. The doctor will physically examine your child's skin, scalp, and nails and ask you and your child some questions. The doctor may ask if anyone in your family has psoriasis and if your child recently had an illness or started a new medication.

On rare occasions, the doctor may remove a skin sample (do a biopsy) to examine it more closely. A biopsy can tell the doctor whether it's psoriasis or another condition with similar symptoms.

Treatment

There are lots of ways to treat psoriasis, and different things work for different people. Be sure to talk with a doctor to figure out what treatments work best for your child.

Psoriasis treatments fall into three categories:

  1. Topical treatments are creams, lotions, and ointments applied directly to the skin. These include moisturizers, prescription corticosteroids and vitamin D creams, and shampoos made with salicylic acid or coal tar. Topical treatments can effectively treat many types of mild to moderate psoriasis, but can be a little messy.
  2. Light therapy (phototherapy) involves using natural or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light to treat the psoriasis symptoms. A doctor may recommend brief daily exposure to the sun, but too much sunlight can make psoriasis worse. More aggressive forms of light therapy include using controlled doses of UV light on the affected skin, laser therapy, and therapies that combine UV light with medicines and topical treatments.
  3. Oral or injected medications are used to treat severe psoriasis or psoriasis that resists other treatments. They include pills, shots, and medicines given intravenously (through an IV into a vein). Some of these can have serious side effects and might be prescribed for short periods of time only.

A doctor might try one therapy and then switch to another, or recommend a combination of therapies. It's not always easy to find a therapy that works, and sometimes what works for a time will stop being effective. It's important to work closely with the doctor to stay on top of your child's treatment.

Things You Can Do at Home

Besides following your doctor's advice, you can help your child by making healthy lifestyle choices:

Most psoriasis will respond well to treatment, but it's important to stay on top of it. If your child should apply an ointment twice a day, remind him or her to do so; if a little more sun is recommended, join your child for a daily walk. Your efforts, and your child's, will help control psoriasis symptoms.

Date reviewed: April 2015


Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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