A student was too embarrassed to leave her house after university stress caused her to develop scaly, snake-like skin.
Beth Webster, 23, first noticed a few small spots on her arm in the final year of her chemistry degree at the University of Aberdeen.
But within just four months, the tiny marks grew into unsightly coin-sized splodges across her entire body.
Despite being initially diagnosed with scabies, doctors eventually found the cause of her painful, itchy patches to be psoriasis.And now, studying for a master’s in journalism, she is free of the condition and the flaky marks across her body have began to fade away.
Miss Webster said: ‘It was taking me so long in the mornings to get ready – up to two to three hours – because I had to shower and moisturise everywhere – following doctor’s advice, by covering my skin in cream four times a day.’
She suffered a bereavement during her undergraduate course. The death came during her exams and made her studying extra stressful and ‘overwhelming’.
With so much going on, she developed anxiety and soon noticed the spots all over her skin.
Her GP originally diagnosed her with scabies – an itchy skin condition caused by the immune system reacting to mites and their saliva, faeces and eggs.Miss Webster said: ‘They told me it was scabies, which was horrific.
‘I had to tell my boyfriend and my whole family because it is contagious and transferred through close contact with the skin. I was really embarrassed.’
The prescribed cream for scabies didn’t work, so she decided to consult a nurse. They said she had been misdiagnosed.
However, they were also confused as to what was causing her dry skin.Two months later, doctors finally diagnosed psoriasis and prescribed Dovobet, a steroid gel.
It helped, but it took her around two hours each day to apply, an hour in the morning and an hour at night to cover up the patches.
Her daily routine included showering and exfoliating to remove dead skin cells, moisturising four times a day and applying make-up.She used foundation on her face, as well as special leg make-up, which would take a large portion of her day.
But annoyed at how long it would take her, she would skip the process. However, this made her fret about her appearance and she started to avoid leaving her house. She added: ‘It got to the point where I couldn’t be bothered. I would try to stay home as much as I could.’I was trying to force myself to go out and not hide away, but it was difficult.
‘On nights out I couldn’t go out wearing a dress. I had to be really careful about what I was going to wear.’I think it was easier to put on a long sleeved top to hide my flaky skin.’After being referred to the hospital, doctors advised her to wean herself off the Dovobet gel she was previously prescribed, as steroid creams thin the skin.
Instead, they put her on the waiting list to receive UVB phototherapy – an ultra violet light treatment that helps to slow down the production of new skin cells.
In the meantime, the patches on her skin became bigger and bigger, but she found solace by reading blogs written by psoriasis sufferers who championed the ‘Get Your Skin Out’ campaign.
Miss Webster added: ‘It’s showing people that it’s normal and it’s okay. It made me more confident, but I did still worry about what people might say.’
Fortunately, she was able to receive the ultra violet light therapy on the NHS and the light box, which she described as ‘a huge stand-up sunbed’.
At first, she could only use if for short, 17 second exposures, due to the strength of the rays and the risk of burning.
But, she has now built up to three minute 42 second sessions, three times a week.
She has been receiving the treatment for five weeks and still has four weeks of sessions remaining.
Her face is now free of psoriasis and the red, sore and flaky marks all over her body have faded to faint, brown patches.
Miss Webster said: ‘I’m hoping eventually the marks will go, but I’m not that bothered any more about it, because it doesn’t feel horrible.’
Doctors don’t know if the psoriasis will return after the UVB phototherapy finishes and if so, to what degree, but Beth remains optimistic.
She added: ‘I am scared it might come back, but I am sharing my story along the way to help others.
‘I think it will help people especially if they are seeing the progress for light treatment, it would be good to see it has worked for someone.’
Miss Webster is supported by the British Skin Foundation. For more information on the BSF visit: http://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/
Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales.
The patches normally appear on your elbows, knees, scalp and lower back but can appear anywhere on the body.
It can start at any age.
For most, psoriasis develops before the age of 35 and the condition affects men and women equally.
The severity of the condition varies from person to person, for some causing a minor irritation, while for others it has a major impact on their quality of life.
Psoriasis is a long-lasting, or chronic, condition that involves periods when a sufferer will have no symptoms or mild symptoms, followed by more severe outbreaks.
The condition occurs when the process by which the body produces skin cells is accelerated.
Normally the cells are replaced by the body every three to four months, but in psoriasis the process only lasts about three to seven days.
The resulting build-up of skin cells creates the patches associated with psoriasis.
While the condition is not fully understood, it is thought the increased production of skin cells is related to a problem with a person’s immune system.
For those suffering with the condition, their immune system attacks healthy skin cells by mistake.
Psoriasis can run in families and there is thought to be a genetic element to the condition.
Many sufferers will experience symptoms following a certain event, a trigger. A trigger can include injury to a person’s skin, throat infections and using certain medications.
The condition is not contagious, so cannot be spread from person to person.
While there is no cure, a range of treatments can be used to improve symptoms and the appearance of the affected skin patches.
In most cases, a sufferer will be prescribed creams and ointments to ease the symptoms.
If these prove ineffective, doctors may opt for phototherapy treatment. It involves exposing the skin to certain types of ultraviolet light.
In the most severe cases, treatments such as oral or injected medicines that work throughout the body are used.
Source: NHS Choices