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What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a very common skin condition that affects 3% of the U.S. population - that’s more than 7.5 million Americans. Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that is caused by an overactive immune system. This inflammation causes the body to make new skin cells in days, instead of weeks. As these cells pile up on the skin, you can see thick, scaly areas on the skin, often called “plaques”. Psoriasis can occur anywhere on the skin, but it is most common on the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp.

What causes psoriasis?

Scientists have learned that a person’s immune system and genes play a role in causing psoriasis.

When a person has psoriasis, something goes wrong in the immune system, so white blood cells, also called T-cells, can also attack the body’s skin cells. This causes the body to make new skin cells too quickly. The extra skin cells pile up on the surface of the skin, and you see psoriasis.

Psoriasis is more than just a skin rash. It is a chronic, systemic inflammatory disease, meaning that it is usually a lifelong disease caused by too much inflammation in the body, and that can negatively impact the skin, joints, and other organs.

We know that psoriasis runs in families. Scientists have found that people who have certain genes are more likely to get psoriasis. If your parent, sibling, or family member has psoriasis, you have a higher risk of getting it. However, psoriasis is NOT contagious.

You also CANNOT get psoriasis by:

  • Swimming in a pool with someone who has psoriasis
  • Touching someone who has psoriasis
  • Having sex with someone who has psoriasis

What are the signs and symptoms of psoriasis?

Patches of inflamed, itchy scales on the skin are the most common signs of psoriasis. Psoriasis can occur anywhere on the skin, including fingernails and toenails, but it is most common on the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp.

Certain triggers can cause your psoriasis to flare. These include injured skin (cuts, scrapes), allergies, weather changes, and even stress.

Psoriasis can also cause arthritis which can result in swollen, painful joints and may affect about one third of psoriasis patients. Most people notice psoriasis on their skin before they develop psoriatic arthritis, but it is also possible to get psoriatic arthritis before psoriasis. If you have psoriasis and are experiencing any joint pain, it is important to tell your dermatologist as soon as possible, so they can get you the best treatment for you.

What can trigger psoriasis?

Lots of everyday things trigger psoriasis. Common psoriasis triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Skin injury, such as a cut or bad sunburn
  • Infection, such as strep throat
  • Some medications, including lithium, prednisone, and hydroxychloroquine
  • Weather, especially cold, dry weather
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol (heavy drinking)

These triggers can also lead to psoriasis flare-ups. Different people have different triggers. That’s why it’s so important for people with psoriasis to know their personal triggers. Avoiding triggers can reduce psoriasis flares and improve your symptoms.

How do I treat my psoriasis?

Psoriasis is different for everyone. There are many types, symptoms, and areas of the body it can affect. Psoriasis treatments are not one-size-fits-all, and that’s a good thing because there’s lots of options, and your Tono doctor can help you find the best treatment for your personal needs.

Here are some of the common treatments for psoriasis:


Topical treatments are medications applied to the skin that can help slow down excess skin cell reproduction and reduce inflammation caused by psoriasis. There are many effective topical treatments, including prescription and over-the-counter options. Topical steroids are the most common treatment option for psoriasis. There are also topical non-steroids, and some newer treatment approaches which combine topical treatment options, such as a corticosteroid with a retinoid.


Phototherapy, or light therapy, involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis under medical supervision. Phototherapy is administered in a health care provider's office, clinic, or at home with a phototherapy unit.

Biologics & systemic treatments

Biologics are newer, stronger medicines. A biologic can target, or quiet, only the part of the immune system that is overactive because of psoriasis. This means that biologics have less risk of causing problems with the liver, kidneys, and other organs than other strong psoriasis medicines.

Biologics and systemic treatments are an important treatment option for people with moderate-to-severe psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, or both. For many people, taking a biologic was life changing because it helped control their symptoms and had less side effects, even after other treatments failed.

Complementary & integrative medicine

Complementary and integrative medicine is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional, or Western, medicine.

Your Tono doctor will ask you about your unique symptoms, and work with you to design the best treatment plan for you.

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