Psoriasis is a common skin disease, but its real toll is hidden

Don Flood-Warren long avoided picking up his grandkids because they didn’t like his “scaly bits”.

The disability pensioner, 69, has struggled with psoriasis for 15 years and says the skin condition contributed to his depression.

“I was very conscious of it and embarrassed of it. I didn’t go out much,” he said.

What started as small, itchy patches of red skin eventually spread across his body.

“I’d have to trim my nails every couple of days or wear gloves to bed so I didn’t scratch, because I’d wake up the next morning and there’d be blood,” he said.

“I was uncomfortable even sitting because it was on the lower back and on the backs of my legs.”

A man with a skin condition rests his hand on his chest
Psoriasis is a common skin condition but can be debilitating. (Supplied)

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that affects an estimated 2 to 4 per cent of the Australian population.

Mr Flood-Warren is among the almost 20,000 Australians with a severe form of the disease.

The north Queensland man would make the almost five-hour round trip from his home near Cardwell to Cairns for light therapy two to three times a week.

It is a journey he repeated for 13 years.

“It kept it at bay but it never really cured it,” Mr Flood-Warren said.

A man sits in the front seat of a car with a seatbelt on
Mr Flood-Warren would spend hours driving each week to receive medicated light treatment for his psoriasis. (ABC North Qld: Chloe Chomicki)

More than skin deep

Townsville University Hospital dermatologist Aaron Boyce said psoriasis could be triggered by infection, stress and sometimes medication.

“It doesn’t take a lot of scratching below the surface to realise that the impact of skin disease is more than just disease of the skin,” Dr Boyce said.

“Simple things that most people would take for granted – like being able to go down to the swimming pool, or having children climb on your lap – people that suffer with skin problems find those simple things sometimes stressful, and sometimes they start to avoid them as well.

“Unless you’ve got personal experience, or if you’ve seen someone who suffered with a skin disease, [the impact] is often grossly underestimated.”

A doctor sits at a desk in a hospital
Aaron Boyce says psoriasis can be triggered by infection, stress and medication. (Supplied)

North Queensland woman Gail Frew, 75, has been dealing with psoriasis for two decades and said she was often embarrassed to leave the house.

“It puts a bit of a block on your life,” she said.

“People look at you like you’re germy … you can tell by the look on their face.”

New drug offering hope

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there is a range of treatment options – including topical creams and lotions, medicated light treatment and oral or injected medications.

A new drug – deucravacitinib, sold under the name Sotyktu – was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme this month for people with severe forms of the disease.

A small group of north Queensland patients have been trialling the drug for the past few months as part of an early access program.

A woman sitting next to a wooden dining table
Gail Frew has struggled with psoriasis for two decades. (Supplied)

Both Ms Frew and Mr Flood-Warren have reported a dramatic improvement in their condition.

“I’m so happy that something has come along which has actually showed some results,” Ms Frew said.

Mr Flood said the difference had been life-changing.

“I just feel normal again,” he said.

Hands holding a box of medication labelled 'Sotyktu' and blister pack of pills
A new drug to treat psoriasis was listed on the PBS this month. (ABC North Qld: Chloe Chomicki)

Dr Boyce said access to treatment could often be more challenging for regional Australians because of a shortage of dermatologists.

“A lot of dermatologists preferentially work in major capital cities and we need more dermatologists in regional areas,” he said.

“We’re working really hard to make sure that that happens but it’s slow progress – training up a dermatologist takes five years.

“Hopefully, in time, it’s going to be easier and easier and easier for our communities to be able to see a dermatologist, to benefit from the advice, and then access these new medications.”

Arms covered with psoriasis skin plaques
The chronic inflammatory skin disease affects an estimated 2 to 4 per cent of Australians. (Supplied)

Do you suffer from psoriasis? Does the reaction from others upset you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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