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My skin itches. Is it psoriasis? What is that?

A red rash on a person's elbow

Stress, climate change, infection, and certain medications may cause flare-ups.

By Hans Petersen
Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What is psoriasis? According to VA‘s health encyclopedia, psoriasis is a chronic skin disease. It most often first appears between the ages of 15 and 35 and may run in families. Psoriasis affects nearly equal numbers of men and women.

In people with this disease, the skin grows too fast. Dead skin cells build up on the skin‘s surface to form inflamed, thick, silvery scales called plaques. Psoriasis does not spread from person to person, but what causes this disease is unknown.


Psoriasis plaques tend to form on the elbows, knees, scalp, navel, arms, legs, or buttocks crease. They can be unsightly, painful, and itchy. Plaques on the joints can limit movement, and people with psoriasis can have associated arthritis of the joints. On the fingernails or toenails, psoriasis can cause pitting, a change in nail color, and a change in nail shape.

Symptoms may come and go on their own. Factors such as stress, climate change, infection, and certain medications may cause flare-ups. If symptoms bother you, know that medical treatment can help relieve them. Discuss your treatment options with your health care provider.

Medical Treatments

There are many types of external medical treatments. These are used on the outside of your body. Your health care provider may prescribe one of many types of topical medications, which are put on your skin.

Topical medications can include topical steroids to reduce thickness of the plaques and inflammation, topical vitamin type medications (including vitamin D and vitamin A), or agents such as coal tar, which is now more limited in use. In some cases, the skin may be exposed to a special light in the health care provider‘s office.

Internal treatments are taken orally (by mouth) or given by injection. There are a number of oral medications. Your health care provider can tell you more about these treatments.

A doctor examines a patient's back

Dr. Sarah Seyfer treats several suspicious-looking spots on Veteran Harold Shaver's back.

New Dermatology Clinic at Houston VA Medical Center

One of the many places Veterans can be treated for psoriasis is the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. A new and spacious, state-of-the-art Dermatology Clinic on the second floor of the Medical Center offers expanded services to Veterans seeking care for conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

“This place is so big and modern. It makes me feel great just to be here.”

“We are so proud to be able to serve our Veterans in this beautiful new clinic,” said Dr. Ted Rosen, Chief of Dermatology Service. “We are able to offer more space, with better flow, which allows us to work more efficiently. With an increased number of Veterans seeking Dermatology care, this new clinic will allow us to provide them with top quality health care in a timely manner.”

“Wow, this new clinic is amazing,” said Willie Robinson, an Army Veteran who was the first patient seen in the new location. Robinson was eager to learn about the new equipment he would be using for upcoming treatments in the clinic. “This place is so big and modern; it makes me feel great just to be here,” he added.

Harold Shaver, WWII Merchant Marine Veteran, and wife Karen, Navy Veteran, both agree. “We‘ve been coming to the Dermatology Clinic in this hospital for over 10 years, and this is our first time to see the new clinic,” she said. “It is so beautiful and open. We can really tell that Veterans are being seen quicker, thanks to the new clinic.”

August is National Psoriasis Awareness Month. Learn more about the disease from the National Institutes of Health.