For some, psoriasis is little more than mildly irritating, persistent itching.
For others, like Glenn Speer of New York City, the chronic skin condition can bring excruciating, even debilitating, pain that can significantly limit activity and lessen life quality.
Psoriasis often manifests as red, scaly patches (called plaques) on the knees, elbows, trunk, back, and scalp.
“It itches, bleeds, and sheds,” Speer told Everyday Health in a 2021 feature story. “It’s very uncomfortable and painful … it was so overwhelming at times.”
Now in his late 60s, Speer first suffered his symptoms in his late 20s and was diagnosed at 30. At its worst point, Speer’s psoriasis plaques covered 75% of his skin surface.
“It was hard for me to do the things I liked to do because I was in tremendous pain,” he told Everyday Health.
A Too-Common Affliction
Approximately 7.5 million people in the Unites States suffer from psoriasis, reports the American Academy of Dermatology. While it primarily strikes white adults, it can afflict all ages and races, and recent research suggests people of color are more susceptible than previously believed.
Dr. Denise Harr, Capital Blue Cross senior medical director, says psoriasis occurs when a problem with the immune system causes white blood cells to attack the body’s skin cells, creating inflammation and areas of thick, flaky skin.
“Psoriasis normally continues for life,” Dr. Harr said. “In the worst cases, it can interfere with sleep, cause embarrassment, and even lower self-esteem due to its effect on some people’s outward appearance.”
Speer can relate.
“Obviously it’s depressing not to be able to function the way you’d like to,” Speer said. “You feel you’re out of sync with the world.”
Tough to Work with
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), psoriasis can sometimes hurt work performance by harming self-image and limiting certain physical activities. One study published by the NIH estimated that psoriasis costs $11.2 billion annually in lost productivity, and that it costs the U.S. economy $35.2 billon a year overall.
Speer, a freelance editor and fact-checker, said his severe psoriasis prevented him from typing at times.
“Which is a drawback in journalism,” he said.
Critical to containing psoriasis’ costs and symptoms is health insurance that covers treatments. Capital Blue Cross, for instance, covers a variety of psoriasis medications and therapies for many group employer and individual plans that choose Capital’s pharmacy benefits. Specific coverage through Capital’s drug benefits depends on the plan.
Less Pain, More Activity
For Speer, 21st Century improvements in psoriasis treatment have translated to less pain and more activity later in life. Two decades of properly tweaked and fine-tuned medications have reduced his psoriasis plaques to near zero, and when he was 56 he joined his first noncompetitive softball league.
“Until a couple of years ago,” he told Everyday Health, “I never thought I’d be able to do something like that.”
Small patches and pains still pop up now and again, but Speer counts his blessings, not his flare-ups.
“Compared to what I had, I can’t complain,” he said. “I went from 75 to 1 percent covered (with psoriasis plaques). That’s a miracle.”