Can Children And Teens Have Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes symptoms to appear on the skin. These symptoms are caused by inflammation in the body, which makes the body produce too many skin cells. More than 7 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with psoriasis. People can develop psoriasis at any age, although most people experience their first flare-up between the ages of 15 and 35 years1.

Psoriasis that affects children and teens is called pediatric psoriasis. The number of children and teens diagnosed with psoriasis has doubled in the past 50 years or so2. Around 1 in 3 people are diagnosed before the age of 20 years, and 1 in 4 people are diagnosed before the age of 2 years. The average age for developing pediatric psoriasis is around 8-11 years3.

Psoriasis can also affect younger children, with about 20,000 children under the age of 10 years being diagnosed each year. Infants can develop psoriasis, but it is not a common condition. Psoriasis affects girls and boys at roughly equal rates. Like adults, children and teens with psoriasis are not contagious and do not need to be kept apart from other children during a flare- up or when symptoms are visible.

What types of psoriasis most commonly affect children and teens?

Psoriasis can affect children and teens in different ways. Infants can be diagnosed with infantile psoriasis, which can go away completely after a relatively short time. Some children and teens who develop psoriasis may also have the condition go away after a few months. However, in others the condition will never go away completely, and they will continue to have cycles of flare-ups and times without symptoms (remission)2. Other children and teens have psoriasis with skin symptoms as well as psoriatic arthritis, a condition in which inflammation causes symptoms in and around the joints3.

The symptoms of psoriasis in children and teens can be similar to other skin conditions, which can sometimes make it difficult to get the right diagnosis3. Children and teens can develop the same types of psoriasis that adults can, such as:

Children under the age of three can sometimes develop a special type of psoriasis called diaper psoriasis. Pustular and erythrodermic psoriasis are quite rare among children and teens, but they can occur4.

What are the symptoms of psoriasis in children and teens?

Plaque psoriasis causes areas of red, inflamed, and thickened skin which are often covered with a layer of silvery scales. These plaques commonly occur on the arms, legs, and torso. As with adults, Plaque psoriasis is the most common clinical subtype of psoriasis, affecting about 75% of children and teens with psoriasis symptoms2.

Psoriasis plaques can also occur on the scalp and face in children and teens. The scalp is often the first place and is sometimes the only place, that plaques appear in children3. The plaques can be particularly thick and scaly, and very itchy.

Guttate psoriasis is a condition that tends to affect children, teens, and young adults more often than older adults. It causes many small, reddish, teardrop-shaped plaques with scales that can appear anywhere on the body, often after an infection like streptococcus. Around 15%-30% of children with the condition have guttate psoriasis2. In some children, guttate psoriasis will clear up completely and they never have another flare-up.

Inverse psoriasis is also called flexural psoriasis. It is also more common among children, especially younger children, than among adults3. This causes smooth, shiny, pink or red patches on this skin that are usually not scaly. These patches tend to occur most often in skin folds, such as the armpit, groin, and around the face.

Around 40% of children with psoriasis have symptoms on their nails, such as pitting or changes in the color or texture of the nail2. These symptoms are more common among older children. Children with nail symptoms may or may not have plaques on other parts of the body.

Diaper psoriasis occurs most often in infants and children aged 2 years or younger. The symptoms are bright red, distinct plaques that are usually not very scaly3. This type of psoriasis usually goes away when the child is toilet trained.

What are common causes of psoriasis in children?

The tendency to develop psoriasis tends to run in families. A child with one parent who has psoriasis has about a 10% chance of developing it too. If both parents have psoriasis, the chance increases to about 50%3.

Researchers are still working to understand what exactly causes psoriasis in children and teens, and the extent to which the contributing causes are genetic. Having certain types of infections seems to be a common cause. Around 30%-50% of children and teens develop psoriasis a few weeks after having an infection such as2:

  • strep throat
  • upper respiratory tract infection
  • ear infection
  • bronchitis
  • tonsillitis

Other children and teens develop psoriasis after taking certain types of medications, or after a skin injury such as a scrape, cut, burn or bite.

How is psoriasis in children and teens treated?

Psoriasis in children and teens with mild or moderate symptoms can often be treated effectively with topical medicines apply directly to the affected skin2. These include:

  • Topical corticosteroids, to reduce the inflammation that causes symptoms
  • Vitamin D analogues (such as calcipotriene), to reduce the amount of skin cells produced
  • Anthralin, to reduce both inflammation and skin cell production
  • Tacrolimus, which can be useful for symptoms that affect sensitive areas of the skin

Topical coal tar preparations can help with itching, especially for scalp psoriasis, but children and teens sometimes dislike the smell and mess caused by staining skin and clothing. Salicylic acid preparations can help to soften and remove scale, but should never be used in infants due to side effects that they can cause2.

If the psoriasis has been caused by an active infection, such as strep throat, then healthcare providers will probably prescribe antibiotics. Psoriasis due to other causes will not be improved with antibiotic treatment.

For children and teens with more severe psoriasis may need stronger types of therapies. Phototherapy involves treating the affected area with special ultraviolet light. Systemic treatments taken orally (such as methotrexate), or injected (such as biologic therapies) may be needed to affect the way the immune system causes inflammation3.

Children and teens with psoriasis will usually be referred to a specialist dermatologist for treatment4. Counselling can also be helpful in helping children and teens to deal with the social and emotional impact of living with psoriasis. School age children may be particularly vulnerable to bullying and the effects that their condition can have on their self-esteem, confidence, and willingness to engage with their peers.

Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2016.
View References