There are a lot of similarities between eczema and psoriasis. Both conditions cause red, itchy, dry patches on your skin. They also show up on different parts of your body, but a lot of people tend to ask “What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?”
Eczema is very common. In fact, more than 30 million Americans have some form of eczema. It is not contagious. Severe psoriasis, on the other hand, is a skin problem that needs medical attention. Since it is an autoimmune disorder, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which can trigger a heart attack. But the differences between eczema and psoriasis don’t stop there.
To get a better understanding, let’s take a look, if you’re wondering what is the difference between eczema and psoriasis.
What is Eczema?
Eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed. The exact cause of eczema is not known, but researchers do know that if you develop eczema, you do so because of a combination of your genes and environmental triggers.
When an irritant or an allergen from outside or inside the body “switches on” the immune system, it produces inflammation. Basically, you immune system works too hard to protect you. It is the inflammation that causes the symptoms common to most types of eczema.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, common triggers include:
- Animal dander and saliva (when a pet licks you).
- Scratchy clothes (such as wool).
- Sweating a lot.
- Household cleaning products.
- Fruit juices.
- A cough, cold, or the flu.
The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis. More than 18 million Americans have it. It’s caused by an overactive immune system and the symptoms include:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Cracks behind the ears
- A rash on the cheeks, arms and legs
But all eczema is not the same. There are several different types you should be aware of. They include:
- Contact dermatitis-It happens when the skin touches irritating substances or allergens like chemicals, detergents, or even wool. It’s symptoms include: redness, burning, and blisters.
- Dyshidrotic (dis-HI-drotic) eczema-This type of eczema is twice as common in women as it is in men. It produces small, itchy blisters on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet. Stress, allergies (such as hay fever), moist hands and feet, or exposure to nickel (in metal-plated jewelry), may be triggers.
- Nummular eczema-If you have nummular eczema you will develop itchy, coin-shaped spots on your skin. It’s thought to be brought on by things like insect bites and dry skin in the winter.
- Seborrheic (seb-uh-REE-ick) dermatitis-It typically appears where there are a lot of oil-producing glands. Places like your upper back, nose and scalp are most vulnerable. Triggers include stress and medications and is characterized by greasy, swollen skin.
- Stasis dermatitis-This condition develops in people who have poor circulation. It generally shows up in your lower legs. It’s characterized by swelling, redness, and dryness.
Although eczema can affect adults, it’s very common in babies. To prevent flare-ups, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends considering a bleach bath. A diluted-bleach bath decreases bacteria on the skin and related infections.
Over-the-counter hydrocortisone products may help mild cases of eczema. Antihistamines and prescription medications may also help, but researchers continue to find better ways to treat eczema each year.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis (sore-EYE-ah-sis) is a chronic disease that is also tied to an overactive immune system. The word “psoriasis” comes from the Greek word psoriasis, meaning “being itchy.” But there is a difference between eczema and psoriasis.
Psoriasis develops when your immune system sends faulty signals that tell skin cells to grow too quickly. New skin cells form in days rather than weeks. The whole cycle - skin cell production to skin death and flaking off - takes between 21 and 28 days.
Like most chronic illnesses, psoriasis may be associated with other health conditions such as psoriatic arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. People who suffer from psoriasis are usually smokers, overweight, and hypertensive, which can make them more susceptible to heart attack.
If you have psoriasis, you will have one or more of these types:
- Plaque- 80 percent of people who have psoriasis have plaque psoriasis. It’s characterized by inflamed red lesions.
- Guttate- Typically starts in childhood and appears as small, pink, individual spots.
- Inverse- These bright red lesions typically show up in the armpits, under breasts, or other skin folds.
- Pustular- It’s characterized by white lesions, but can be localized to one area of your body like your hands or feet.
- Erythrodermic- It causes red, flaky skin that peels off in sheets.
You can get more than one type of psoriasis, and sometimes you can have one that changes into another type over time.
People with psoriasis most commonly develop symptoms between the ages of 11 and 45 years. However, it can start at any age.
Treatment options for psoriasis vary. They include:
- Salicylic acid
- Light therapy
- Laser therapy
- Ointments and creams
You’ll work with your doctor to determine which treatment option is best for you. Researchers continue to look for a cure.
Hopefully, the next time someone asks: “What is the difference between eczema and psoriasis?” you’ll have a better understanding. But if you develop a rash that won’t go away, is uncomfortable, or develops a blister, see your doctor. You’ll be able to get it diagnosed, and more importantly, treated. Your doctor will help develop a plan that is right for you.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can download our guide: “Everything You Need to Know About Choosing a Primary Care Physician.”