Nyawira Munyiri lights up any room she walks into.
Her bubbly personality is infectious and when she takes the floor to discuss how she has lived with this chronic skin condition, she wears her heart on her sleeve.
Nyawira has had psoriasis for the last two and a half decades. Psoriasis is one of the most common skin conditions. As a life-long skin disorder, it can be painful and disfiguring but her spirit will not be broken.
Generally, psoriasis affects the scalp, nails, joints and causes dark, or red, scaly patches on the skin. The build-up of dead cells on the skin is largely due to an accelerated growth of the skin cells. The appearance of the skin in most cases is scaly.But this doesn’t worry Nyawira.
When did it all begin?
“I first noticed small patches on my right leg when I was eight years old. It had covered 5% of my body but was misdiagnosed. It was treated as a fungal infection for four years before I decided to seek a second opinion when it covered 90% of my body,” Nyawira says.
My skin was dry and scaly.
It had unusual patches that attracted the attention of my friends and college mates.
The passengers in the matatus were disturbed by the appearance of her skin.
They stared, looked away and stared back. Others gazed with no shame.
Some moved seats away from her while others kept a safe distance, only escorting her with their pitiful eyes.
“This greatly affected my self-esteem and I covered up my hands, legs and face even when the weather was quite hot. I was confused and depressed.I had never seen anyone suffering with same condition,” Nyawira says.
What is psoriasis? (pronounced so-ra-ya-sis)
Skin specialist Evanson Kamuri describes psoriasis as a life-long condition that can be painful and disfiguring if not diagnosed early enough and managed properly. It also runs in families.
According to Dr Kamuri, the skin cells in people with psoriasis grow at an abnormally fast rate, causing the buildup of a dry scaly-like appearance.
“Normal skin cell matures and is shed from the body in 28 to 30 days but in a psoriasis patient, in only three to four days, the skin cells are mature and instead of falling off, they form a mass on the surface of the skin,’ said Dr Kamuri who is a dermatologist at Kenyatta National Hospita
Later she learnt to accept the life-long skin condition. She joined Psoriasis Association of Kenya where she met other patients who with psoriasis.
Today she is an ambassador who gladly shares her coping skills. Whenever two or three psoriasis patients and caregivers are gathered, Nyawira is always present to share a word of encouragement.
Psoriasis Association of Kenya is a support group that comprises patients, their friends and family members and doctors (dermatologists) The group seeks to create awareness on this skin condition and also acts as a forum to stay up to date with trends in the treatment and management of psoriasis.
“Building the confidence levels of psoriasis patients is the first step of accepting that this life-long condition is here to stay. There is no cure, but this doesn’t mean that we sulk and allow it to take over our lives, “says Nyawira.
She takes time to explain the dating days with her husband, Elias, with whom they have a daughter, 15-months old Eliana.
“Initially during dating and courtship, I kept the skin condition from him so I get to know him better. Later, I sat him down and showed him the extent of the skin condition. He sat and re-declared his love. “The skin condition does not define your personality. I will be right here with you,” Nyawira remembers her husband’s re-assuring words.
This boosted her confidence further. “This showed me that his love was genuine. I promised to support anyone feeling neglected, frustrated and dejected by psoriasis, ” Nyawira says.
Psoriasis affects both sexes equally and it can occur at any age including in children.Skin specialist Evans Kamuri notes that in a person with psoriasis, the skin cells rapidly multiply, causing a buildup of lesions on certain skin surfaces.
According to Rousset L and Halioua B in paper published in PubMed in 2018, there is a reported higher incidence of psoriasis in persons who have had a stressful event the previous year, suggesting that stress may have a role in triggering the disease in predisposed individuals. In his paper, Rousset notes that several controlled studies have demonstrated that relaxation, hypnosis, biofeedback, and behavioral and cognitive stress management therapies have been effective in people with psoriasis.
Types of Psoriasis
According to Dr Kamuri, the following parts are affected by psoriasis;
- Psoriatic nail disease- nails
- Inverse psoriasis- armpits, the groin, under the breasts and around the genitals.
- Guttate psoriasis- affects children and young adults and affects trunk, arms, legs & scalp.
- Scalp Psoriasis–scalp
- Plaque psoriasis- occurs anywhere
- Erythrodermic psoriasis- red peeling rash that burns.
Triggers of psoriasis
Besides stress, the following factors can also trigger psoriasis
- Infections, such as strep throat or skin infections
• Injury to the skin, such as a cut or scrape, a bug bite, or a severe sunburn
• Heavy alcohol consumption
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Certain medications for bipolar disorder, high blood pressure and antimalarial drugs
Dr Kamuri notes that there is no cure for psoriasis. However, the following forms of treatment are available after consulting with the dermatologist.
- Topical treatments– These are applied directly to the skin. These include several types of medicated creams, ointments and lotions.
- Phototherapy. This is a form of therapy that uses light. Known as phototherapy where artificial ultraviolet B rays penetrate the skin to slow the growth of affected skin cells. The number of sessions is prescribed by the doctor based on the severity of the condition and the area affected.
- Systemic medications. These are either pills or injection used to treat moderate to severe psoriasis.
Nyawira appreciates that whereas there is no cure for the skin condition, we has taken up a positive attitude to deal with psoriasis.
“Psoriasis are flowers on my skin” she concluded.