What's Wrong With Your Skin?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition thought to be caused by an immune system dysfunction. If you have psoriasis, your immune system sends signals to your skin that speed up the production of skin cells.
There are five types of psoriasis (plaque psoriasis, guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and erythrodermic psoriasis), none of which is contagious. Each type causes a different skin rash and appears on different areas of the body. It's estimated that about 7.5 million Americans live with psoriasis. The condition does respond to treatment, but it may never go away completely and tends to come back. Because psoriasis can look like other skin conditions that cause itchy, scaly rashes with inflammation, it is often confused with other disorders. Do you know how to spot signs of psoriasis?
(The images that follow are of real medical conditions and may, in some cases, be graphic.)
- Martin Shields/Alamy
Plaque Psoriasis: Red Bumps and Silvery Scales
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of the skin condition, affecting about 80 percent of psoriasis patients. Usually starting as small red bumps on the skin, plaque psoriasis (shown in the picture) develops into red, raised patches with a silvery, scaly coating — these patches are called plaques. Plaques usually show up on elbows, knees, and the lower back, and they can last for months or even years.
- Hercules Robinson/Alamy
Guttate Psoriasis: Childhood Origins
Guttate psoriasis (pictured) — the second most common type of psoriasis — is characterized by small, red spots on the skin, usually widespread across the trunk and limbs. Often resulting from a bacterial or viral infection in children, these spots come on suddenly and sometimes require oral medication or injections. Mild cases, however, may clear up without treatment.
- Sidea Revuz/Alamy
Is It Psoriasis or Seborrheic Dermatitis?
A psoriasis skin rash tends to itch, burn, and feel sore. Patches of psoriasis commonly occur on your knees, elbows, and on your scalp. The common skin rash seborrhea (as shown) also causes scaly, itchy skin patches. It can occur on your scalp, where it may be called dandruff, or on your face and chest. While doctors don't know the exact cause of seborrhea, it occurs across the age spectrum, in babies as well as in adults, and is usually treated with creams and lotions.
Psoriasis Mimic: Pityriasis Rosea
Pityriasis rosea (pictured) causes a red skin rash that is scaly and can look like psoriasis. This skin rash is common in children and young adults. It often begins with cold-like symptoms and is followed by red, scaly, and sometimes itchy patches that appear on your back or abdomen. Like psoriasis, this skin rash is not contagious. Doctors do not know the exact cause, but pityriasis rosea may be due to a viral or bacterial infection. You can take medication to relieve the itching, and the rash should go away after a few weeks to months. And unlike psoriasis, this skin rash rarely comes back.
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The Itchy Red Skin of Eczema
Like psoriasis, eczema (pictured) is a very itchy skin condition. Scratching causes redness and inflammation of the skin, leading to a worsening of the eczema. Scratching can also cause a secondary bacterial infection. The most common type of eczema is caused by a reaction to irritants like detergents, soaps, or household cleansers. So if you have eczema, you should be careful to use mild soap and regularly moisturize your skin. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream or others medications if eczema is severe.
Is It Psoriasis or Acne?
Some forms of psoriasis appear as pus-filled blisters that might be confused with pimples. Pustular psoriasis forms white blisters that are filled with pus and surrounded by red skin. Far more common than psoriasis, acne (as shown) also causes a pus-filled pimple eruption. However – unlike psoriasis – acne is due to excess oil, blocked pores, and bacteria. Acne is common in teens and young adults and occurs on the face, neck, back, or chest. Pustular psoriasis is usually seen in adults and can occur anywhere on the body.
Measles: Another Psoriasis Mimic
Like guttate psoriasis, measles (as shown) also follow symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in children and cause a skin rash of small, red spots. However, the measles skin rash usually starts on the face and spreads down to cover the body. Measles is caused by a virus and is contagious, though the measles vaccination has made this a rare disease in the United States.
- Getty Images
The Skin Rash of Shingles
Shingles (pictured) is another viral infection that shares some symptoms with psoriasis. Like psoriasis, shingles can make your skin burn and itch and produces a red, blistered skin rash. Shingles is caused by the same virus that first brings on chickenpox. The virus can stay in your body and come back years later to cause shingles. The skin rash of shingles follows the course of a nerve, usually on the trunk. In some cases, severe pain lasts long after the rash disappears. Shingles is more common in people over age 50.
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Ringworm Can Look Like Psoriasis Too
Tinea is a type of fungal infection that resembles some symptoms of psoriasis. Psoriasis can cause the thick fingernails symptomatic of fungal nail infections, and both can cause red skin rashes that itch. When tinea grows on your skin, it can cause a scaly, red skin rash that clears in the middle, called ringworm (pictured). Fungal infections of the skin and nails can be hard to treat. Antifungal medications work, but you may need to take them for a long time.
Inverse Psoriasis or Heat Rash?
Inverse psoriasis is a type of psoriasis that forms in the armpits and skin folds under breasts or in groin areas, making the skin red and shiny. Sweating makes this type of psoriasis worse. Heat rash (pictured) also makes your skin red and forms in skin folds of the groin, breasts, and armpits. Heat rash occurs in hot, humid conditions. Sweating can cause your pores to get blocked and result in a bumpy, red skin rash that stings. Heat rash is most common in newborns, but can also affect older children and adults.
Dry, Itchy Skin or Psoriasis?
Dry, cracked skin is one of the symptoms of psoriasis. However, dry air can also cause your skin to become dry and itchy. When the skin is dry and irritated (as shown), it's more likely to get infected. Infection may cause your skin to become red and swollen. If you have any skin rashes that keep coming back or won't go away, see your doctor. Most cases of psoriasis can be diagnosed with a physical examination; but because psoriasis can look like many other skin conditions, a skin biopsy may have to be done to definitively diagnose it.
- Last Updated: 10/31/16
- Last Updated: 10/31/16