RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Today in Your Health, we have two reports on skin disease. We take a look at triggers that can cause flare-ups. We start with psoriasis. It's painful, and it has the added discomfort of being embarrassing. NPR's Patti Neighmond begins her report on how patients cope at a fashion event.
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PATTI NEIGHMOND: A fashion show in New York City. Cindy McGowen walks the catwalk. Like the other models, McGowen wears a custom-designed outfit: a spaghetti-strap dress, showing off her arms, which are covered with psoriasis, thick, dry red patches of skin.
CINDY MCGOWEN: I have it on both my elbows, both my knees, both my ankles. I have large patches up the back of my triceps, some patches that go down to my wrist and on all of my knuckles. And I also have a different pattern. They kind of call it the raindrop pattern, where it just sprinkles little dots on different parts of your body.
NEIGHMOND: Unidentified Man: Let's welcome to the auditorium...
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NEIGHMOND: McGowen says events like this, co-sponsored by drug manufacturers and the National Psoriasis Foundation, among others, aim to demystify the disease so strangers don't gawk. For Isabel Estevez, this kind of support was literally lifesaving, she says. Estevez was diagnosed at five years old. At nine, she had an experience that shaped her life. She was at a water park.
ISABEL ESTEVEZ: And it was at that point that I never went back to a water park, or that's when I really began hiding my skin from the world, because just the look on their faces really just sent me into shame.
NEIGHMOND: So Estevez wore pants and long sleeves, no matter how hot. She never wore her hair up. She wore jackets all the time. Then, she did an Internet search on psoriasis and found the National Psoriasis Foundation, which happened to be having a conference in Chicago, near her home.
ESTEVEZ: I genuinely thought I was going to show up to this conference and I would be the only one there. And imagine my eyes when I walked in and there was a room full of 500 people, all with psoriasis, all who knew what I was going through. I saw people exposing their skin and not afraid, and it, in turn, gave me the inspiration to do the same.
NEIGHMOND: Support from other patients, says Estevez, has helped to bring her out of hiding.
ESTEVEZ: You know what? I wear whatever I went.
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ESTEVEZ: I mean, if it's cold, I wear long sleeves. If it's hot, I'll wear sleeveless. I'll wear shorts. If someone wants to go to the beach, OK, what time should I be there? I'll bring my sunscreen.
NEIGHMOND: But the most promising treatments, say dermatologists like Mark Lebwohl from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, are drugs called biologics, which came on the market about five years ago.
MARK LEBWOHL: Most of the biologics available are forms of antibodies that are directed against specific parts of the immune system.
NEIGHMOND: Because the drugs suppress the immune system, patients may be more vulnerable to certain infections and even malignancies. Lebwohl says there's a dramatic new biologic waiting federal approval.
LEBWOHL: For the first time, we actually have an injection where you get four shots a year and it clears the majority of patients with just four shots a year. And that is a true breakthrough.
NEIGHMOND: Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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