eczema vs psoriasis

Eczema vs. Psoriasis: How to Know What to Treat

Whenever we feel discomfort in our bodies, we want to know the fastest way to make the discomfort go away. This is particularly true when it comes to itching. It can be distracting, it can become painful, and it can even spread. So when you start feeling the itch, how do you know if it is eczema vs psoriasis? How do you know which illness to treat?

The two conditions have different types of treatments even if they might look visually similar. It's essential that you don't further irritate the skin, which can cause more issues and discomfort. We're going to break it all down for you so that you know exactly which one you're dealing with based on all your symptoms.

Eczema: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

Whenever we feel discomfort in our bodies, we want to know the fastest way to make the discomfort go away. This is particularly true when it comes to itching. It can be distracting, it can become painful, and it can even spread. So when you start feeling the itch, how do you know if it is eczema vs psoriasis? How do you know which illness to treat?

The two conditions have different types of treatments even if they might look visually similar. It's essential that you don't further irritate the skin, which can cause more issues and discomfort. We're going to break it all down for you so that you know exactly which one you're dealing with based on all your symptoms.


Eczema is a commonly occurring skin condition that can cause your skin to become red, itchy, and inflamed. This is a very manageable condition with different treatments.

Eczema Causes

Researchers are not sure exactly what causes eczema. However, in most cases, they believe that a combination of genetics and some sort of trigger are involved. Those who have eczema have an over-reactive immune system which produces inflammation triggered by a substance either inside or outside of the body. This is a condition that a person could have for the remainder of their lives.

Research also shows that people with this condition have a mutation of the gene that creates filaggrin. This is a protein that helps the human body create a protective barrier on the very top layer of skin. Without enough of this protein, moisture can escape, causing bacteria and viruses to enter. Some triggers include dryness, skin irritants, stress, sweating, infections, and allergens. The trigger is different for everyone, and they should be identified as quickly as possible. This allows for a better chance of treatment.

Eczema Symptoms

The symptoms of eczema vs psoriasis can look a little different for everyone. It might even look different depending on the part of the body or at different times. However, eczema tends to be itchy. For most, the itch is mild to moderate. For some, however, it can become much worse and can lead to severely inflamed skin. Some scratch until it bleeds, known as the "itch-scratch cycle". Here are a few things to look out for:


  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Severe itching
  • Patches of dark-colored skin
  • Rough, leathery, or scaly patches of skin
  • Oozing, crusting
  • Areas of swelling

Some have all of these symptoms; some only have a few. Some people have flare-ups, and some have the symptoms go away completely. It is essential to keep track of this information as it could help your doctor with a diagnosis.

Psoriasis: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

Psoriasis, although it can look similar to eczema, has its differences in causes, symptoms, and treatments. Here is some information on psoriasis so that you can tell if your itching is from eczema vs psoriasis.

Psoriasis Causes

Though there are some differences in eczema vs psoriasis, researchers do not know the cause of psoriasis either. It is another problem related to your immune system, along with T cells and white cells called neutrophils in your body.

T cells usually travel through the body and defend against viruses and bacteria. However, with psoriasis, the T cells attack healthy skin cells instead. These overactive T cells also trigger an increased production of skin cells, T cells, and white cells, particularly neutrophils. They travel into the skin, causing redness and sometimes pus. Dilated blood vessels create warmth and redness in the affected areas.

This process becomes an ongoing cycle. New skin cells are rapidly brought to the surface, and thick, scaly patches are created. This will continue until treatment stops the cycle. Researchers also believe that both genetics and environmental factors are to blame. Possible psoriasis triggers include the following:


  • Injury to the skin, such as cuts, scrapes, bug bites, or severe sunburn
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • A deficiency in vitamin D

Psoriasis Symptoms

Just like with eczema, the way that symptoms present themselves can make it difficult to tell which condition you're dealing with. The more you can track your symptoms and present information to your doctor, the easier it will be for them to diagnose it.

Though the signs of psoriasis are different for everyone, there are some common symptoms:


  • Red skin patches with thick silver/white scales
  • Small scaly spots (mostly in children)
  • Dry, cracked skin that can bleed
  • Itching, burning, or soreness
  • Thick, pitted, or ridged nails
  • Swollen, stiff joints

The psoriasis patches can range in looks. It can look like small dandruff-like scaling to major eruptions and red blotches that cover larger areas. Most cases of psoriasis go through cycles. The flare can last for weeks or months, and could then subside and even go into complete remission.

Psoriasis Treatments

The treatment for psoriasis can change depending on how severe the case is. For mild-to-moderate cases, doctors will typically prescribe topical ointments and creams. This can include corticosteroids, vitamin D analogs, topical retinoids, coal tar, and moisturizers. The doctor might also suggest light therapy, which will use either natural or artificial ultraviolet light. This can be done either alone or in combination with medications.

For those with more severe cases of psoriasis, doctors may prescribe oral or injected medications. This is what is known as a systemic treatment. Because some of these medications have severe side effects, some of these medicines will be used for brief periods and will be alternated with other forms of treatment. Doctors typically start with the mildest medications and ointments and then progress further as necessary, to not create further harm.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: How to Tell the Difference

As you can see, there are some similarities in eczema vs psoriasis. So how do you tell the difference? There are a few key ways to tell which condition you're dealing with.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: Location

When it comes to eczema, you will more commonly find the red areas in the "bends" of the skin, such as the crook of the elbow or the knee. Psoriasis can also appear on the outer parts of the elbow and knee and is not restricted to the bends. Unfortunately, both of these conditions could rear their ugly heads in some rather inconvenient places. This makes it even more important to keep your skin clean so that you do not put yourself at further risk of infections or illnesses.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: Itching

The itching can be one of the biggest clues in telling the difference in eczema vs psoriasis. The itching with eczema is intense whereas the itching with psoriasis is only mild. Itching with eczema can also be worse at night. So pay attention to the severity and the timing of the itching.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: Age of Occurrence

Children will deal with eczema more frequently than adults. According to the Nemours Foundation, it often subsides by around age 5 or 6. Some flare-ups can happen during puberty. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis typically develops between ages 15 and 35. It's extremely rare for babies to have psoriasis.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: Additional Symptoms

As stated above, psoriasis comes with other symptoms, some of which have nothing to do with skin. The best example would be stiff or aching joints. If you are only experiencing skin-related symptoms, you're likely dealing with eczema. Keeping a list of all the symptoms you're experiencing (whether you think they are important or not) could make a difference in your diagnosis.

Eczema vs Psoriasis: Risks

Certain behaviors will put you at risk of developing one of these conditions. With eczema, using harsh substances on your skin can significantly irritate it. With psoriasis, factors such as stress, obesity, smoking, and family history have more of an effect on the condition.

Conclusion

It's easy to see why people have a hard time telling the difference in eczema vs psoriasis. With such similar conditions, it is easy to think you have one when in reality you have the other. You should always consult a doctor before trying to treat yourself for an illness, especially if you are unsure of the underlying causes. Identifying triggers, symptoms, and severity of symptoms will be the beginning of a healing journey that will bring you relief and satisfaction.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Clara Sherwood

Clara Sherwood

Clara was born and grew up in Great Britain, and although she’s now happier with the weather in North Carolina where she resides with her partner, she does miss the ubiquitous teacakes. She graduated from a master’s in literature and worked for about 5 years at local news magazines as a reporter.

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