Eczema and Psoriasis Dangers Are More Than Skin Deep. Here’s How To Fight Back.
If you suffer from eczema or psoriasis, you don’t want to hear any more bad news about your condition.
Life is already frustrating enough when you’re always monitoring your triggers, trying to ignore the tingling itch beneath your skin, and waking up feeling groggy and exhausted from another restless night.
Unfortunately, there’s some seriously bad news about inflammatory skin conditions: they can wreak havoc throughout your whole body. If left unchecked, they can lead to asthma, diabetes, and even higher rates of heart disease or cancer.
There’s also good news: you don’t have to sit still and worry. Instead, there are steps you can take to reduce your inflammation and resist the complications of your skin condition.
Few people understand how painful skin conditions can be, let alone the danger posed by complications. Even sufferers are often uninformed.
Dr Jonathan Silverberg, an assistant professor in dermatology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says that eczema complications can include:
- Hay fever and food allergies
- Bacterial skin infections
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Heart conditions
Psoriasis doesn’t fare any better. Arthritis is of particular concern if you suffer from psoriasis, since 30% of people with psoriasis will experience arthritis of some kind, and 5-10% of them will be functionally disabled by it.
The Canadian Dermatology Association says that psoriasis can also lead to liver disease, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.
Both short-term and chronic conditions can arise soon after diagnosis. However, it’s much more common for them to be the result of long-term distress after your body has spent years fighting inflammation and exhaustion.
Why your body betrays you
Inflammation may be gaining a reputation as the boogie man du jour, but in its benevolent form it’s a normal part of your immune system’s arsenal. Problems only arise when the inflammation never goes down, but instead begins to attack your own body with the same firepower it would use against viral or bacterial intruders.
It’s this betrayal that is to blame for most of the itching, scratching, and pain of living with psoriasis or eczema.
We’re not done yet, though. This problem is way more than skin deep.
Since white blood cells cause inflammation, it has the nasty habit of refusing to stay in one place. What begins on the surface is very quickly carried throughout your bloodstream, putting the rest of your immune system on high alert. If the problem disappears, then your immune system relaxes after its useful workout, and all is as it should be.
Unfortunately, eczema and psoriasis don’t disappear overnight. The chronic inflammation begins to spread, exhausting your immune system and potentially affecting your entire body.
One more low blow: other skin disorder symptoms, like lack of sleep and depression, only serve to aggravate your already weakened body further.
Good news and better news
Luckily, treating the cause of the inflammation also seems to reduce its complications.
Dr Jashin J. Wu of the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center says that heart problems decrease in psoriasis patients who are undergoing treatment, and studies are underway to find out if the same holds true for other potentially deadly complications.
There’s no cure for psoriasis or eczema, but advances are being made all the time. In August 2016, researchers at Harvard and Monash University announced that they had discovered the molecule behind poison ivy’s itchy rash. This news might not seem important, but the immune molecule is found in the skin and may shed light on why some people suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema.
How to help yourself
Until researchers find a cure or a definitive treatment, a dermatologist can help you decide on a treatment plan that’s right for you.
You can also reduce inflammation and support your body in your everyday life. The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends an anti-inflammatory diet which is high in omega-3 oils and low in dairy products and processed food. (Not a bad first step for anyone, but particularly if you’re combating chronic inflammation.)
Other steps include:
1. Avoiding harsh chemicals in skin care, laundry, and cleaning products
You’re probably doing this already, but it’s an essential first step in calming down your inflamed skin.
2. Exercising regularly
Just two and a half hours of exercise every week can decrease your inflammation markers by 12%.
If exercise is a trigger for your condition, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about your options. What’s causing the trigger: is it sweat, the rush of blood to your skin, or another variable? With so many ways to move, there will be one you can do safely.
3. Talking to your doctor or nutritionist about inflammation-fighting supplements like turmeric or Vitamin A
Supplements aren’t a cure-all, but they can give your exhausted body the backup artillery it needs to get back to normal. Some might interact with medications you’re taking, so make sure to talk to an expert before adding any to your daily routine.
4. Reducing stress in as many areas of your life as possible
Easier said than done, right? Start with adding exercise to your life (see above), and try turning down optional drains on your time and energy. Always remember that you’re not selfish when you demand the time you need to stay healthy!
5. Getting a good night’s sleep
Skin conditions can make sleeping soundly a thing of the past, but not getting enough sleep can have a devastating effect on your inflammation levels. Make sleep a priority in your life, and talk to your wellness team about what you can do about night-time flare-ups.
6. Starting small and working up
Even small steps are better than nothing. Sleep and stress reduction are the most important since their ripple effects will carry out into all aspects of your life, but picking the easiest step and focusing on it is an excellent place to start.
Eczema and psoriasis have the potential to damage you, but it’s just that: potential. By working with your wellness team and making the right choices, you can defend yourself from pain, inflammation, and worse.