Psoriasis: It’s more than skin deep

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The cold weather is here, bringing you the risk of developing psoriasis – a chronic skin condition that changes the normal life-cycle of skin cells.

The signs and symptoms of psoriasis vary. Psoriasis may appear on the skin as small scaly spots; dry, cracks that bleed; red patches covered with silvery scales; and/or itchy, burning or sore areas.

Psoriasis can be just a few spots of dandruff-like scaling, or large, raised patches of inflamed skin. Psoriasis can affect fingernails and toenails, making them thickened, pitted or ridged, and joints, making them swollen and stiff.

The specific cause of psoriasis is not known, but it is considered an autoimmune disorder which affects the function of a specific white blood cell – T lymphocyte or T cell. Properly functioning T cells keep the body healthy by fighting viruses and bacteria. For people with psoriasis, these T cells become overactive.

They attack healthy skin cells, as if the healthy cells were an infection, which triggers an ongoing deteriorating cycle. 

First, the T cells trigger the body to fight a perceived infection (actually healthy skin cells). So, the body causes blood vessels to dilate around the affected skin area(s) to increase the number of white blood cells available to fight this perceived infection. The T cells’ attack on the healthy skin cells causes the body to replace the healthy skin cells under attack with new skin cells.

As a result, the body sends more T cells and white blood cells to fight these new healthy skin cells. The cycle continues.

As a result, new skin cells move to the top layer of the skin in days, instead of weeks, creating a build up of thick, scaly patches on the skin’s surface.

Even though no one is sure why T cells sometimes malfunction like this, research shows that genes and environment are involved.

Unfortunately, psoriasis runs in families, so family history is the most significant risk factor – if your parent(s) had psoriasis, your risk of getting it is quite high.

Fortunately, you can reduce environmental triggers.

Avoid recurrent bacterial and viral infections, since people with impaired immune function (HIV, recurring strep throat) are highly susceptible to psoriasis. Avoid stress, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption, since they strain the immune system. Avoid obesity, since psoriasis often develops in skin creases and folds. Avoid injuries to the skin, such as cuts, scrapes, bug bites, tattoos and/or severe sunburn, since they lead to an increase in T cell production. Avoid food sensitivities. Be aware that some medications, such as lithium, beta-blockers, anti-malarial drugs and iodides increase your risk.

Manage winter weather conditions to avoid skin irritation by making the following adjustments. Turn down the heat in your rig and in your home to avoid drying out your skin, since cooler air has more moisture. Consider using a humidifier, especially when sleeping. Avoid long baths or showers as they strip your skin’s protective oils that seal in moisture. Wash with mild cleansers and then pat your skin dry. Apply a thick, creamy moisturizer right after bathing.

Protect yourself from extreme cold outside by wearing a hat, scarf and gloves and be sure that the material next to your skin is soft and breathable (not scratchy wool). Reduce stress levels and weight through regular exercise.

Avoid infections by washing your hands frequently. Consider getting a flu shot.

Drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated from the inside. You can also feed your skin by increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish, nuts and seeds; adding turmeric to your diet; and exposing the affected area to sunlight for Vitamin D. Although psoriasis often requires medical intervention, some people are able to relieve symptoms naturally by applying an aloe vera or an Oregon grape cream to the affected area. Capsaicin cream, coal tar shampoo or tea tree oil shampoo may help, too. However, since some products may irritate sensitive skin, all products should be tested on a small affected area first to ensure they don’t cause a reaction. They should never be applied to broken skin.

If your psoriasis becomes too painful to perform regular tasks, consult your doctor.

During your visit, you may also be examined for the following linked diseases/conditions: psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating condition that causes joint damage and loss of function; eye conditions, such as uveitis, blepharitis and conjunctivitis; obesity and Type 2 diabetes; high blood pressure; cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke; metabolic syndrome, a cluster condition which includes elevated insulin levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels; Parkinson’s disease; kidney disease; and, other auto-immune diseases, such as celiac disease, sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Apparently, the effects psoriasis can have on your health may be more than skin deep.

This winter, do what it takes to save your own skin.


Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at

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Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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