What usually sets psoriasis apart from other skin conditions is plaque.

Like many skin ailments, it can be tricky to tell psoriasis apart from the rest (at a certain point, all rashes begin to look alike). But psoriasis is unique in that it usually features plaque, or an overgrowth of skin.

That’s because psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune disease, is a skin condition in which your immune system mistakenly directs your skin cells to grow quickly. Whereas normal skin cells may take weeks to grow, those affected by psoriasis do so in days. In the most common form of psoriasis, these extra cells form thick, reddish patches, also called plaque, which may be covered in silver-white scales. The plaque usually occurs on the knees, elbows, lower back and scalp, and it’s prone to itchiness.

Other forms of psoriasis, like guttate psoriasis, pustular psoriasis and inverse psoriasis, look red and raw (in addition to feeling sore, in some cases). While there’s a genetic component to psoriasis, it can remain dormant until something triggers it. Researchers still aren’t sure why this is — or exactly how the triggers work — but they’ve found that stress, strep throat, cold or dry weather and even some sort of skin damage (like a cut or bad sunburn) could set off psoriasis.

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Some patients opt not to receive treatment, but certain medications that control psoriasis and its symptoms are available and recommended by doctors. Learning about your options is essential, since psoriasis is more than skin deep. “The high proportion of patients who are not being treated, or are being inadequately treated, is a concern because psoriasis is much more than a cosmetic skin condition,” explains April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, professor of dermatology (clinical scholar) and associate dean for clinical research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

That’s because other health issues, such as psoriatic arthritis, often accompany psoriasis. So if you address the root issue, you may be able to minimize the odds of having to cope with those as well. “Psoriasis management has become increasingly complex because our patients not only have psoriasis but, oftentimes, they have a number of comorbidities that are associated with psoriasis,” says Dr. Armstrong, who is also a dermatologist at Keck Medicine of USC. “In addition to that, our treatment options have increased and, therefore, clinicians need to decide what treatments may be best for their psoriasis patients.”

If you suspect you have psoriasis, it’s best to see a dermatologist to get a confirmed diagnosis. That way, you can learn about your best options for treatment.

By Deanna Pai

If you’re in Southern California and think you may have psoriasis, make an appointment with one of our dermatologists at USC Dermatology. To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.