If you’re dealing with dry, itchy, and irritated skin, you might assume the cause is nothing major. But sometimes, a more serious skin condition may be causing these symptoms to occur. Eczema and psoriasis are two such skin problems. It can be tough to discern between the two — even for some doctors. We’ll discuss some of the key differences between these skin problems and how they’re treated, as well as why you should see your local dermatologist if these symptoms sound familiar to you.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a fairly common skin condition, with the latest estimates showing over 30 million Americans are affected. There are a few different forms of eczema, but atopic dermatitis is the kind most people experience. It’s essentially a hypersensitive reaction, often to certain irritants or allergens (such as dyes, soaps, fabrics, or foods). It can also result from bacterial exposure, genetics, stress, and certain medications.
Eczema is characterized by red or brownish-gray rashes on the body that cause intense itching. This itching often worsens at night. The skin may crack, peel, blister, swell, leak, or bleed (often as a result of scratching). Sometimes, the rash may appear as raised bumps and can have a crust on top. Often, it appears in the body’s “bends” (like on the back of the knee or in the crook of the elbow), but eczema can develop just about anywhere (including on the face, the arms, the neck, or the scalp). The appearance of these rashes and the significant itchy feeling that accompanies them are typically considered the hallmarks of eczema. Eczema cannot technically be cured, but patients may not experience flare-ups for many years (and some young patients may actually grow out of the condition).
What Is Psoriasis?
While eczema is essentially a reaction to some sort of environmental stimuli, psoriasis is actually considered to be a chronic autoimmune condition. It causes the body to overproduce skin cells at a rapid rate. This causes skin cells to build up and form silver-colored scales in affected areas, which become inflamed, red, and itchy. Approximately 3% of all people worldwide have some degree of psoriasis, making it another one of the most common skin problems around.
Like eczema, psoriasis is usually accompanied by itchiness. But that’s not the only characteristic of psoriasis. There are actually several forms of psoriasis, and each psoriasis sufferer may experience slightly different symptoms. Often, the thick and inflamed patches of skin are the giveaway. These can appear virtually anywhere on the body, but they frequently appear on the scalp, on the back, on the hands and feet, and elsewhere.
Psoriasis can be triggered by some of the same issues as eczema, including stress, medications, illnesses, diet, genetics, and weather changes. But it may also be triggered by sun exposure, scratches, or vaccinations. Medical dermatologists won’t always be able to give you a concrete cause. And while it cannot be totally cured, it can be treated successfully.
How Is Each Condition Treated?
With both of these skin problems, topical treatments are typically the first step. But the kinds of topical medications used differ between the two conditions. There are various lotions and creams that may be recommended by your dermatologist to treat eczema; they may also prescribe an antihistamine or a corticosteroid. Cold compresses, light therapy, and relaxation techniques may also treat the symptoms. Your dermatologist will also likely recommend that you avoid tobacco smoke, very hot showers, and harsh products.
For psoriasis, some of the same sort of topical medications (such as corticosteroids and moisturizing creams) may be recommended. Coal tar, salicylic acid, synthetic vitamin D, retinoids, and other treatments can be helpful in more serious cases, as can light therapy and certain injections. It’s also best to avoid smoking, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, very hot water, and harsh soaps.
How Are These Skin Problems Diagnosed?
The only definitive way to really diagnose either of these skin problems is to pay a visit to your local dermatologist. They can assess your symptoms and the appearance of your skin to give you a definitive diagnosis and recommend treatment to alleviate your discomfort.
These two conditions can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, but we’re here to provide some relief. For more information, please contact us today.