Do you have red blotches on your skin and an an itch that just won't leave you alone? You could be suffering with either psoriasis or eczema. Both are skin conditions with very similar symptoms — so how do you know how to tell them apart?
Suffer with patches of dry, flaky skin? How do you know if it’s eczema or if it’s psoriasis?
Both are skin conditions that cause itching and patches of red, dry skin; both are chronic; and both tend to be treated in similar ways, but there are some noticeable differences between the two. Here’s how to tell them apart.
Eczema vs. Psoriasis
Both psoriasis and eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) are thought to be caused, at least in part, by the same thing: an immune system that kicks into overdrive and mistakenly attacks your own body. But the process is different for each condition, because they come from different parts of the immune system. Symptoms of the two conditions also tend to show up on different parts of the body.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that results in the overproduction of skin cells. Normal skin cells completely grow and shed within a month. With psoriasis, skin cells do this in just three or four days. Instead of shedding, the skin cells build up into silvery-white scales on the surface of the skin. The skin, as a result, becomes inflamed and red. If you look closely, the skin is thicker and more inflamed than with eczema, and it can also feel like your skin is stinging or burning.
Psoriasis is more common on the scalp, lower back, knees, and elbows, but it can show up anywhere, including your face.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a disease of the immune system which affects the ability of the skin barrier to protect against outside irritants and allergens, making it easier for those irritants to penetrate into the skin. This throws the delicate balance of the skin microbiome out of whack, causing the immune system to go into overdrive. As a result, your skin can become red and inflamed.
Eczema patches are not as thick as psoriasis, and appear mostly as areas of rough, dry skin that sometimes swells, cracks, and even oozes fluid (a telltale sign you’re suffering with eczema, not psoriasis). It can also cause redness, swelling and an intense itch. It can sometimes get so bad that you scratch enough to make your skin bleed.
It’s not exactly known what causes eczema, but we do know that it can sometimes be genetic, and often has an environmental trigger. Generally, it occurs because of a hypersensitivity reaction — the skin overreacts to certain triggers such as stress, dyes, fabrics, soaps, perfumes, animals, pollens, sweating, and certain foods.
Eczema usually appears on the inside of the arms, backs of knees, and in the folds of your skin.
How to treat Psoriasis
There’s currently no cure for psoriasis. But there are some topical treatments (creams and ointments) that aim to reduce inflammation and scales, slow the growth of skin cells, and remove plaques (the silvery skin build-up of dead skin cells). These can be applied directly to the skin and can be helpful for reducing mild to moderate psoriasis.
There are also some pharmaceutical treatments that can put the condition into remission.
How to treat eczema
Eczema is vastly common in infants — it affects 20% of children under two years of age, and usually starts in the first six months of life. The good news is many children outgrow the hypersensitivity by childhood or by early adulthood, showing marked improvements between the ages of two to five years.
For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, however, it’s a lifelong condition. Doctors will suggest a treatment plan based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.
Most eczema can be cleared with topical treatments, but the treatment depends on how severe it is. For mild to moderate cases, you should use a topical corticosteroid to control inflammation, and an emollient on your skin. This type of moisturiser has an oil or cream base, not a water base, like lotion, which could dry your skin out more.
Steroid creams can help treat a bad flare of atopic dermatitis, but shouldn’t be used constantly. In extremely severe cases, immunosuppressant drugs are prescribed.
If you have eczema, you should always use a non-soap based wash or oil in the bath or shower to combat dry skin, and avoid soap and bubbly products which can damage and dry out the skin.
Other tips include keeping the skin cool, avoiding hot water or irritants, and reducing allergens such as dust mites in the home, as well as avoiding any foods that could cause your flare-ups.
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