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Self-Care for Psoriasis

July 05, 1999|BARBARA J. CHUCK

Psoriasis, a chronic skin disease, has no cure. But for many people, medical treatment and self-care can alleviate the symptoms. Psoriasis is not contagious and its cause is unknown.

Psoriasis causes the skin to form thick, silvery scales called plaques. Depending on the severity, it can be annoying or an impediment to enjoying a normal life. The disease, which affects roughly equal numbers of men and women, typically appears for the first time between ages 15 and 35.

The condition occurs when the skin grows too fast. Dead cells build up on the skin's surface to form scales. Psoriasis can cause pitting and changes in the color and shape of the nails.

The plaques tend to form on the knees, scalp, navel and elbows. For some people, the plaques are painful and itchy and can limit movement of the joints. In some cases, psoriasis also causes symptoms similar to those of arthritis. Symptoms sometimes go away on their own. Stress, climate change, infection and certain medications can cause flare-ups. Of course, you should discuss your condition and possible treatments with your doctor.

Treatments include topical and oral medications, coal tar and phototherapy (exposure to the sun as directed by your doctor). The latter is normally used with a medication called psoralen.

Don't be discouraged if your condition doesn't get better in the expected time; people respond differently to treatment. Likewise, don't be surprised if your psoriasis improves with treatment but later worsens. Over time, treatments frequently stop working. In such instances, a different treatment option may be effective.

Here are some ways to help manage symptoms:

* Take baths in warm--not hot--water to soak off scales. You might feel tempted to soak for a while, but limit your baths to 15 minutes so you don't dry out your skin.

* After bathing, apply lotion immediately, while your skin is still damp. Dry skin can worsen symptoms.

* Use a dandruff shampoo to control psoriasis of the scalp.

* Avoid contact with abrasive cleansers, harsh detergents and household chemicals.

* As best you can, avoid skin injuries, which can cause flare-ups.

* Try not to get stressed.

Source: StayWell Co.

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