Is it time to dismiss the myths and fears about psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a long-lasting noncontagious skin condition that can cause much discomfort. Because of its unpleasing appearance, psoriasis is often accompanied by stigma. A new study reveals that myths surrounding the skin condition still persist in this era of readily available information.

Characterized by reddish, scaly lesions capable of causing itching, burning sensations, or both, psoriasis affects people's quality of life to a great degree.

Beyond having to manage the physical discomfort caused by this disease, people with psoriasis also have to face social stigma based on the misconceptions that their peers may have about the disease.

Although psoriasis is not contagious, many people still believe that coming into contact with a person with this condition could have harmful effects.

This and many other myths and ungrounded fears persist to this day in the United States — so suggests a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Psoriasis is surrounded by stigma

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia recently decided to find out how many people — both from the public at large and among medical professionals — still believe myths surrounding psoriasis and therefore avoid contact with those who have this skin condition.

"Although it's widely recognized that the appearance of psoriasis can negatively impact patients' social, professional, and intimate relationships," explains senior study author Dr. Joel M. Gelfand, "we wanted to quantify the perceptions patients with psoriasis face on a daily basis in order to understand how pervasive they are."

To do this, the scientists sent dedicated surveys to two different cohorts of participants: 198 people randomly recruited through an online data collection service, and 187 medical students enlisted via e-mail.

Alongside the survey, the researchers also sent all the participants images displaying people with psoriasis, as well as close-ups of psoriasis lesions.

While the medical students who responded did not seem to believe in common stereotypes about people with psoriasis, the responses that the researchers received from members of the general public were much less encouraging.

Around 54 percent of these respondents said that they would not consider dating a person with psoriasis, and 39.4 percent said that they would not so much as shake hands with someone with the condition.

Moreover, 32.3 percent of the people in this cohort replied that they would not like a person with psoriasis to come into their homes.

Enduring stereotypes seemed to contribute to these discriminating attitudes, as 26.8 percent of the respondents believed that psoriasis was not a serious condition, and 27.3 percent of the web service participants thought that psoriasis was contagious.

About 57 percent of the respondents also characterized people with psoriasis as insecure, while 53 percent said that such individuals were sick and 45 percent rated them as unattractive.

A need for 'better education'

Still, the researchers note that even among the respondents pertaining to the general public, those who already knew someone with psoriasis, or had some previous knowledge of the condition, believed fewer stereotypes and were less likely to express stigmatizing views.

This, the investigators say, suggests that there is a need to provide people with more and better information about this skin condition, aiming to dismantle pervasive myths and fears.

"It's possible that better education about the disease, as well as contact with individuals with psoriasis, may help to dispel myths and stereotypes and reduce negative perceptions."

First study author Rebecca Pearl

"Future studies should evaluate the effects of education campaigns on people's attitudes toward those with psoriasis, as well as efforts to incorporate patients with psoriasis into general medical education for physicians and other healthcare providers," adds Dr. Gelfand.