The most common type of eczema, atopic eczema, causes the skin to become dry, scaly, cracked, itchy and sore. Psoriasis also causes dry, crusty patches of skin covered in scales or plaques.
Eczema and psoriasis have many things in common. They are both inflammatory skin diseases that can cause thicker patches of skin. Both of them are long lasting or ‘chronic’ conditions; this means that, while they don’t have a cure, they can be managed when symptoms are flaring up.
Neither eczema or psoriasis is contagious.
The main difference between eczema and psoriasis is their different mechanisms.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that affects the whole body to some extent; it causes the natural process of skin cell renewal to speed up, resulting in excess cells on the surface of the skin. Normally skin cells are replaced every 3-4 weeks, but with psoriasis cells are produced much more rapidly, sometimes even within a few days.
Psoriasis is thought to be genetic in nature, but can also be affected by environmental factors.
The causes of eczema are more complex, though they also include genetic factors, such as a likelihood increasing if you have a parent with allergies. Eczema also has an environmental component, with things such as climate, detergent, soap or allergens triggering or exacerbating flares. Unlike psoriasis, eczema is a condition that involves an impaired skin barrier function, combined with an overactive immune system response, which means that irritants trigger inflammatory reactions causing itchiness and swelling.
However, sometimes it can be tricky to distinguish between eczema and psoriasis, particularly in children.
Three ways to tell the difference between eczema and psoriasis
- Where it is: both psoriasis and eczema can appear on the hands and scalp, however eczema tends to appear in the creases of the knees and elbows. Psoriasis most commonly tends to appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, buttocks and face.
- How much it itches: psoriasis can cause mild itching and, in rare cases a burning feeling. Eczema causes much more intense itching that can sometimes lead sufferers to scratch so much that their skin bleeds.
- When it starts: eczema usually starts in babies or young children. Although it can appear in adults it is less common. Psoriasis, however, is rare in babies and tends to start between the ages of 15-35.
Both eczema and psoriasis can show up differently in different people. If you are still having trouble distinguishing between eczema and psoriasis then consult a dermatologist. Their trained eye should easily help you to determine the correct diagnosis. You can also find additional resources about different types of eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions on our blog.
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.