By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
People have suffered from psoriasis throughout history with references to the condition in biblical times, and there is evidence of the condition in remains of Egyptian mummies. Various treatments have been used throughout different time periods to manage the symptoms.
Throughout history, there were many varied beliefs about the cause of psoriasis, including inadequate hygiene, poor nutrition, microbes, blood disorders, allergies and underlying health conditions. As a result, unorthodox treatments used to cure the condition were used in practice, including feces, urine, onions herbal concoctions and various oils.
It was recognized even in ancient times that sunlight seemed to have an effect on the severity of symptoms of psoriasis and, to an extent, this was utilized in the treatment of the condition.
Hippocrates (460-377 BC) was the first physician to use coal tar in the treatment of psoriasis to increase sensitivity to sunlight, but he also supported the use of topical arsenic for the treatment of psoriasis. Galen (133-200 AD) was the first person to identify psoriasis as a health condition of the skin and penned the terminology using the Greek word psora, which means “to itch.” In addition to the application of arsenic, he also recommended the application of a broth in which a viper had been boiled.
In this time period, psoriasis was viewed alongside other skin conditions with similar symptoms such as leprosy, which led to the untrue belief that psoriasis was contagious. As a result, people who suffered from psoriasis were often isolated or shunned from society and treated with a certain social stigma.
Treatment in the 19th Century
Early in the 1800s, Jean-Louis Ailbert initiated a classification system for skin diseases according to characteristics about their cause, appearance, duration, course and response to treatment. Shortly afterward in 1809, Dr. Robert Willan was the first physician to distinguish psoriasis from other similar skin conditions.
In the 1840s, Dr. Ferdinand von Hebra formally separated psoriasis from leprosy, by eliminating the association between the terms. In this time period, the use of tar and arsenic continued in the treatment of psoriasis, in addition to sunlight.
The 20th Century and Beyond
It was not until the 1960s that psoriasis began to be considered as an autoimmune condition, caused by the body’s own immune and inflammatory response mechanism. At this time, psoriatic arthritis was also identified as a distinct clinical condition.
Rapidly evolving research about the pathology of psoriasis led to the discovery and development of targeted treatments for the condition.
The effect of sunlight was expanded upon with the introduction of phototherapy and the clinical administration of ultraviolet radiation to affected areas of the skin.
Research about the involvement of genes and family history of psoriasis was conducted in the 1990s in the Human Genome Project, which identified several genes associated with the disease.
Biologic medications were first introduced to the market at the end of the 20th century and remain the newest development in the treatment of psoriasis today. These are well regarded for their targeted action that primarily affect the immune cells that are responsible for the symptoms of the condition.
Last Updated: Nov 11, 2015