More than 6.7 million Americans suffer from the itching, peeling and pain that goes along with psoriasis, but a shockingly high number of those people aren’t getting any help for their condition. And many of those who are getting treated only use topical creams to manage their symptoms, rather than more powerful options.

Understanding more about psoriasis and what the treatment options are is critical to getting the best possible treatment you need.

Psoriasis is more than just a rash

Psoriasis occurs when certain factors—perhaps an infection, injury, stress or medication—trigger an immune response in the body. In an attempt to fight what the immune system sees as a threat, it attacks the skin, prompting skin cells to grow at a much faster rate than normal. The layers of skin pile up, leading to the itchy, peeling and scaling rash most common with psoriasis.

In more than 15 percent of people with psoriasis, the immune system attacks the joints, too, causing painful psoriatic arthritis. This typically creates joint swelling and inflammation that comes and goes, and most often affects the fingers, toes, knees, elbows and spine. Like other forms of arthritis, going without treatment can lead to constant pain, deformed joints and long-term disability.

Know your psoriasis treatment options

Though there’s currently no cure for psoriasis, many treatment options can provide relief. Skin treatments begin with moisturizers, medicated creams and ointments and ultraviolet or laser therapy. Psoriatic arthritis is often managed first with pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen. If these treatments don’t work or if symptoms are severe, doctors may prescribe drugs that slow the growth of skin cells, reduce joint damage or curb the immune system. Many people have to try several different approaches to see what works best for them.

Whether you suffer from skin-irritating psoriasis or the potentially joint-damaging psoriatic arthritis, it’s important to work with your doctor to get the help you need. If you can’t afford your medications, don’t give up—your doctor can connect you to pharmaceutical companies’ financial assistance programs or prescribe another treatment.

Living with psoriasis

These healthy habits and tips can help you manage and even prevent psoriasis flare-ups.

  • Change the way you bathe. Switching from a shower to a bath will do wonders for your irritated skin. Soaking in lukewarm water for just 15 minutes can lessen your symptoms. For added relief, throw in some bath oils, Epsom salt or even oats—the polysaccharides found in this breakfast staple form a protective layer over the skin, preventing flakiness and combating irritation. Just avoid harsh soaps, which can make your symptoms worse.
  • Get a little sun. Sunlight helps psoriasis rashes heal, but too much time outside can actually aggravate skin and trigger new flare-ups. Keep your sun sessions short, and always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Ask your doctor about how to use the sun to treat your psoriasis.
  • Keep moving. Though it’s tempting to avoid activity when you have arthritis, exercise is a must to keep your joints flexible and prevent disability. Try to work in several short bouts each day, and pace yourself. Gentle activities like walking, yoga, bicycling and water exercise are easiest on sore joints.
  • Practice healthy habits. Smoking, drinking alcohol and being overweight can all worsen psoriasis and make treatments less effective. People with psoriasis have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and other conditions, so a healthy diet and lifestyle are essential. Also, keep a handle on your daily stressors. Stress can make the itching, peeling, cracking and flaking that comes with psoriasis worse.