Dermatology series: Eczema and psoriasis
Two of the most common skin conditions to drive people to dermatologists have to be eczema and psoriasis. Although these aren't life threatening, they can be uncomfortable physically in the case of itchy eczema and emotionally, as they leave the sufferer with scaly, red patches.
Both are actually very common, and although there aren't cures for either of them, it's thought they are rooted in a malfunction in the immune system.
"While the exact cause of the immune system malfunction in eczema is not understood, it is known that in psoriasis the white blood cells mistakenly attack an individual’s own skin, setting off a reaction that dilates blood vessels and attracts more white blood cells," Dr Gabriela at Aesthetics Lab told Cover Media. "The result is an over production of skin cells that migrate too quickly to the surface, causing a build-up of scaly skin.
"Eczema tends to be more prevalent in children, and psoriasis in adults."
One of the first things you'll likely talk to your doctor about is what could have caused your eczema flare up. On many occasions it'll be something external, like a harsh washing powder, a new type of fabric, dry climates or irritating ingredients in beauty products.
The triggers for psoriasis are a little different as they are usually physiological, meaning things like infections, skin trauma, medication, alcohol, smoking and a bad diet can bring it on.
The way your eczema or psoriasis will be treated also depends on the area affected; for example if it's on your hair or nails, you'll be given something different to if you have a patch on your legs.
As with most things skin related, treatment varies greatly. Dr Sohail Mansoor, Consultant Dermatologist and BMI Kings Oak Hospital in Enfield, points out that things have changed a great deal since the days of piling steroids on people.
"While the standard therapy is the judicious use of topical steroids, we are using more and more immune modulating creams - these are used to kick-start the body’s natural immune response to force it to tackle the skin complaint," he explained.
"It's important to avoid soap-based products and to use moisturisers liberally to reduce water loss through skin. New moisturisers with skin-like lipids called ceramides are now coming onto market.
"In the case of eczema, it is important to see a dermatologist to optimise therapy, as light therapy and oral medications are sometimes required. Allergy testing is also vital in a select few cases."
Psoriasis largely used to be treated with creams, but there are now more tablets and injections available for people who find they don't help. These are prescribed by dermatologists, which is why a trip to the clinic is recommended.