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Understanding Psoriasis in Children: Symptoms, Treatments, and More

What Is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common, noninfectious skin condition. It causes skin cells to develop much more rapidly than normal and not fall off like they should. The cells build up on your skin’s surface, causing areas of thick, red skin called “plaques.” Plaques are usually itchy and covered with thick whitish-silvery scales. An overactive immune system is to blame for this process.

Psoriasis can appear anywhere on your body, but it’s most common on the knees, scalp, elbows, and torso.

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Psoriasis can be passed from generation to generation. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), if you or your child’s other parent has psoriasis, the likelihood your child will also have it is about 10 percent. If both you and your child’s other parent have the skin condition, your child’s chances of developing it increase to 50 percent, possibly even higher.

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Symptoms of Psoriasis in Children

There are several types of psoriasis. Each type has unique symptoms. The most common symptoms of psoriasis include:

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  • raised patches of skin that are often red and covered with whitish-silvery scales (often mistaken for diaper rash in infants)
  • dry, cracked skin that can bleed
  • itching, soreness, or a burning sensation in and around the affected areas of skin
  • thick, pitted fingernails or nails that develop deep ridges
Psoriasis on arm

Psoriasis is a chronic condition. That means it will likely never go away entirely. It’s also a condition that cycles through periods of increased and decreased activity. During active times, your child will have more symptoms. Within a few weeks or months, the symptoms may improve or even disappear. These cycles are often unpredictable in their timing. It’s also very difficult to know how severe the symptoms will be once a cycle begins.

Psoriasis Triggers

While no one knows exactly what causes psoriasis, there are several triggers that may make an outbreak more likely. These include:

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  • infection
  • skin irritation
  • stress
  • obesity
  • cold weather

Avoiding or finding ways to manage these triggers can help reduce the occurrences or severity of psoriasis outbreaks.

Incidence of Psoriasis in Children

Psoriasis is quite common in children. According to the NPF, each year, an estimated 20,000 American children under the age of 10 are diagnosed with this skin condition. That equals about 1 percent of the youngest population.

Most people experience their first psoriasis episode between ages 15 and 35, but it can develop in children much younger and adults much older. One study found that 40 percent of adults with psoriasis say their symptoms began when they were children.

For some children, psoriasis symptoms may become less severe and less frequent as they grow older. Others may continue to deal with the condition throughout their life.

Treating Psoriasis in Children

Currently, there’s no cure for psoriasis. Treatment focuses on easing symptoms when they occur and helping prevent or reduce the severity of outbreaks.

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Topical Treatments

Topical treatments are the most commonly prescribed treatment for psoriasis. They can help reduce symptoms of mild to moderate psoriasis. Topical treatments include medicated and moisturizing:

  • ointments
  • lotions
  • creams
  • solutions

These can be a little messy, and your child may need to apply them more than once a day. They can be very effective, though, and cause fewer side effects than other treatments.

Help your child remember to apply the treatment by setting electronic reminders or scheduling them at times of day that don’t fluctuate, such as right before bed and right after waking up.

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Light Therapy

Both natural and artificial lights can help ease symptoms of psoriasis. There are several newer options such as lasers and medications activated by special lights. You shouldn’t begin using light therapy without first consulting your child’s doctor. Too much exposure to light can actually make symptoms worse.

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If your doctor recommends natural sunlight, help your child get that extra dose by taking a walk together as a family or playing in the backyard after school.

Oral or Injected Medications

For moderate to severe cases of psoriasis in children, your child’s doctor may prescribe pills, shots, or intravenous (IV) medications. Some of these medicines can cause serious side effects, so it’s important to understand what you may face before the treatments begin. Because of possible serious side effects, this type of treatment may be reserved until your child is older or used only for short periods of time.

Lifestyle Changes

Managing triggers may be one of your child’s best defenses against psoriasis. Exercising, getting adequate sleep, and eating a balanced diet will help keep your child’s body healthy. A healthy body may have fewer and less severe periods of disease activity. In addition, keeping your child’s skin clean and moisturized can help reduce skin irritation, which also reduces psoriasis flares.

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Help encourage your child and everyone in your family to get healthier by starting a friendly family competition. Keep track of who completes the most steps each day or if weight loss is a concern, track the percentage of weight lost over time.

Treatment Plans

Your child’s doctor may try one of these treatments alone, or they may combine them. If the first treatment doesn’t work, don’t lose heart. You, your child, and your child’s doctor can work together to find medicines or combinations of treatments that do work and help ease your child’s symptoms.

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When It’s Time to See a Doctor

Early detection and diagnosis are crucial for children. As soon as you notice symptoms that could be caused by psoriasis, you should make an appointment with your child’s doctor. Early intervention and treatment can help reduce the stigma and self-esteem issues that often arise because of these skin conditions.

Helping Your Child Cope with Psoriasis

For some children with psoriasis, it’s a minor inconvenience that needs to be addressed only when symptoms appear. For other children, however, psoriasis can be more concerning. Children who have large areas of skin covered by plaques or plaques that develop in sensitive areas, such as on their face or around their genitals, may experience embarrassment. While the scope of the outbreak may be small, the damage it can do to your child’s self-esteem may be rather large. Feelings of shame and disgust may compound the problem. If you combine those feelings with comments made by peers, psoriasis can cause your child to suffer depression and feelings of isolation.

It’s important you work with your child’s doctor to counter the negative emotional and psychological impact caused by the presence of the disease. In today’s culture, children may be picked on or bullied because of very minor issues, such as unexplained bumps or spots on their skin. The trauma caused by this can have effects that impact your child their entire life.

Ask your child’s doctor to speak with your child about their skin’s appearance. Having someone validate that the impact of the condition is real can help your child understand that adults care and are concerned for their well-being. Talk with your child about appropriate responses to questions and comments from their peers.

Additionally, you may want to speak with your child’s doctor about working with a therapist or joining a support group. There are many resources available that can help your child deal with emotional issues they may be facing.

Treating the skin condition is no longer enough. You, your child, and your child’s doctor should work together to treat the psoriasis in a holistic manner, one that accepts and understand that the implications and complications caused by psoriasis go deeper than the skin’s surface.

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