Is it Eczema or Psoriasis? How to Tell the Difference

Since both eczema and psoriasis result in red, itchy and scaly skin, telling the difference between the two can be quite tricky.

While you may think that it does not really matter which one you have, understanding the difference will go a long way in helping you to treat the issue, enabling you to do this much more effectively.

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, and affects the rate at which your skin produces new skin cells.

For the average person, the cycle in which new skin cells are produced to replace dead skin cells takes about a month. However, for those who suffer from psoriasis, this cycle can be completed in as little as three days.

With so many extra skin cells rising up to the surface of the skin, this leads to older and dead cells building up on the skin’s surface, resulting in scaly areas that look quite white or silver. This then leads to inflammation and redness, as well as itching.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is actually a collective term, referring to a group of different skin conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed and itchy.

These tend to be long-term conditions, and are caused by the skin having a hypersensitive reaction to something, whether this may be a certain soap, an animal or a type of fabric.

Why does the skin have such a severe reaction to triggers?

This is usually down to a compromised skin barrier. The primary role of your skin’s protective barrier is to retain moisture in the skin while preventing toxins from the environment from entering your skin.

With this barrier compromised, your skin becomes hypersensitive to triggers, as well as quite dry and sensitive

The Different Types of Psoriasis

Both eczema and psoriasis come in a few different forms. Understanding these can help you to decipher whether your skin condition is eczema or psoriasis.

With psoriasis, there are five different types out there:

  • Plaque Psoriasis – this is the most common, affecting around 85% of people who have psoriasis. It shows up as thick, red patches of skin, usually between one and ten centimeters wide, but can sometimes be larger, covering the whole body, especially if scratched
  • Guttate Psoriasisthis is the second most common type of psoriasis, and consists of small, drop-shaped spots that often develop into plaque psoriasis over time
  • Flexural/Inverse Psoriasisthis type of psoriasis tends to be red and shiny, and appears in the folds of the skin, such as underneath the breasts or in the armpits
  • Pustular Psoriasisthis is quite severe, with white pustules that are surrounded by redness
  • Psoriatic Arthritissince psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, it can sometimes end up attacking the joints, becoming quite painful and limiting mobility 

The Different Types of Eczema

As mentioned above, eczema is a collective term that refers to a few different skin conditions, with each one having its own triggers. While there are many common symptoms shared between each type of eczema, there will be some unique differences between each type too, which will help you to work out which one you have.

There are seven main types of eczema:

  • Atopic Dermatitis – the most common form of eczema, and usually what people are referring to when they talk about eczema. Causes an itchy rash, often around the knees and elbows, and sometimes small bumps can appear too
  • Contact Dermatitisalso quite common, this form of eczema is caused by a reaction to something you have touched. Skin will turn red and itchy, and hives can sometimes appear too
  • Dyshidrotic Eczemacauses small fluid-filled blisters to appear on the skin, usually the hands and feet
  • Hand Eczemaas you can tell from its name, hand eczema is eczema that affects the hands, with red and itchy patches that can sometimes crack or blister
  • Neurodermatitissimilar to atopic dermatitis, the exact causes are unknown, but it often comes along with other types of eczema and psoriasis
  • Nummular Eczemamanifests as round, coin-sized spots to form on the skin, and can be even more itchy than the other types of eczema
  • Stasis Dermatitiscaused by weakened veins releasing fluid, which then leads to the skin becoming swollen, itchy and inflamed. Often affects those who also have varicose veins 

The Symptoms of Eczema and Psoriasis

Many of the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis have already been touched upon above, but, when it comes down to it, there are a few key differences in the symptoms of the two that you should be aware of.  

For starters, psoriasis looks distinctly raised from the skin. The skin here will usually be thicker, as well as red and scaly, and these patches of psoriasis tend to be quite well defined.

On the other hand, eczema causes patches that are red and will often appear as small red bumps. These bumps tend to have a crust on them that can leak fluid.

The amount of itching you experience can also be a clue as to the condition you are dealing with…

You are probably thinking…

Don’t both conditions itch?

Yes, but psoriasis only tends to cause mild itching, whereas the itching that eczema causes is so much more severe. Itching from eczema also tends to be exacerbated at night. This is often one of the key ways in which doctors determine whether a condition is psoriasis or eczema.

At What Age Does Eczema and Psoriasis Become More Common?

While both eczema and psoriasis can affect just about anyone at any stage in life, they do tend to be most common at certain ages.

Eczema tends to first show itself when you are a baby or a young child, due to the fact that skin is so sensitive to different triggers at such a young age. As you grow older, the symptoms will begin to fade, and many end up with little to no symptoms by the time they are an adult.

Of course, you can still develop eczema as an adult, but there usually tends to be an underlying issue that has caused this, such as hormonal changes or a thyroid disease.

On the other hand, psoriasis is more prevalent a little later on in life, and seems to affect the majority of people between these ages of 15 and 35.

Which One is More Common – Psoriasis or Eczema?

The answer is eczema, as over 30 million Americans suffer from some sort of eczema.

On the other hand, psoriasis affects just 7.5 million Americans, which is still quite a large number.

Other Ways to Tell the Difference Between Eczema and Psoriasis

In addition to taking into consideration the triggers and symptoms of the skin issue you are facing, there are other ways in which you can try to identify whether your skin condition is eczema or psoriasis.

With eczema, your skin type is likely to be dry and sensitive. Dry and sensitive skin types suffer from a damaged skin barrier, which is why the skin becomes so hypersensitive to different triggers.

Eczema is also largely genetic, so you will likely have someone in your family who suffers from it. It also tends to be linked to hay fever or asthma, whether this may be you who has it or someone in your family.

With psoriasis, this condition can often be linked to other, more serious, health issues, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Depression

If you suffer from one of these, then your psoriasis could be linked to it.

Psoriasis can also sometimes cause joint stiffness or pain, as well as swelling, and can even affect the nails. On the other hand, eczema does not affect the joints at all, and will not spread to your nails.

Is it Possible to Have Both Eczema and Psoriasis?

With such similar symptoms, you may think that it is common to suffer from both eczema and psoriasis.

However, while this is possible, it is actually quite rare, and most people tend to suffer from one or the other.

Are Eczema or Psoriasis Contagious?

No, neither of these skin conditions are contagious.

Are you being told that it is?

If so, education is key here, and it is important to inform and teach others about the condition that you are dealing with.

Treating Psoriasis

As with anything, prevention is better than cure, and the best way to prevent psoriasis from flaring up is by avoiding common triggers.

Wondering what these triggers are?

They include:

  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Certain medications
  • Alcohol
  • Cold weather
  • Infections

Already experiencing a flare-up?

The way in which you treat this depends on how severe the flare-up is…

For mild to moderate psoriasis, all you may need is some over-the-counter corticosteroids. These will not only reduce the inflammation you are experiencing, but will also prevent your skin from over-producing skin cells.

Keeping your skin well moisturized is also important, because although this will not heal your psoriasis, it will still help to reduce the itching and dryness.

If you suffer from moderate to severe psoriasis, you may need a stronger prescription medication.

These may include:

  • Coal Tar – reduces inflammation and heals scaly skin
  • Topical Retinoids a derivative of vitamin A that speeds up the rate at which your dead skin cells are shed by the body. This allows the new skin cells to rise to the top normally, rather than build up underneath your old skin cells 

Treating Eczema

While there may not be a cure for eczema, there are still plenty of common triggers that can be avoided to reduce symptoms.

These include:

  • Staying away from harsh skin care products and products with added fragrances
  • Not taking long, hot showers
  • Avoiding highly polluted areas 
  • Staying away from tobacco smoke
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding hot temperatures to minimize sweating
  • Keeping skin clean

Another common eczema trigger is allergies, and many will find that certain foods often lead to flare-ups in their eczema. Common allergens include milk, nuts, eggs and shellfish, so keeping a food diary could be a great way to keep your eczema in check.

Another tip would be to minimize your exposure to dust.

How?

You can purchase dust-protecting covers for your bedding, and make sure that you keep your home constantly dust-free.

Do you suffer from severe eczema and need some extra help?

A doctor will be able to prescribe you medicated creams or other stronger treatments. These will help to reduce the symptoms of your eczema, as well as the frequency of your flare-ups.

These include:

  • Antihistamines – these will reduce the amount of itching you experience
  • Antibioticsto treat skin infections
  • Corticosteroids these will minimize itching
  • Calcineurin Inhibitorsthese will influence your immune system, calming it down so that it does not have such exaggerated reactions to different triggers
  • Light Therapy – this can heal eczema rashes 

Other Conditions That Are Often Mistaken for Eczema or Psoriasis

Have you considered the possibility that maybe you don’t have eczema or psoriasis, and are, in fact, suffering from a different skin condition?

There are many other skin conditions out there that produce the same symptoms as eczema and psoriasis, leading to a large number of misdiagnosed cases.

These include:

  • Rosacea
  • Shingles
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Hives

It is all very well trying to work out whether you suffer from eczema, psoriasis or anything else, but the only way to really be sure is by visiting a doctor. It is important that you start treating both of these conditions as quickly as possible in order to prevent them from worsening, so booking yourself in for a professional diagnosis as soon as you can is absolutely crucial.