LeAnn Rimes Discloses Her Struggle with Psoriasis

09/03/2008 at 10:00 AM EDT

LeAnn Rimes

LeAnn Rimes

Singer LeAnn Rimes is speaking out about a devastating illness she hid for most of her life: psoriasis.

The country star, 26, was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease at age 2. By age 6 she was covered in red, scaly patches that would crack and bleed. "Not only does that take a physical toll on your body, but it takes an emotional toll," Rimes tells PEOPLE. "I was very self-conscious."

The struggle was made even harder as a young woman in the public eye. "It's amazing to me how many people say, 'Oh my God, I would never ever have known,'" says Rimes. "I was hiding it for so long."

Symptom-free for five years thanks to medication, diet and stress management, Rimes is sharing her experience on behalf of the Stop Hiding campaign in a new PSA to raise awareness of the disease, which affects as many as seven million Americans.

She also credits her husband of nearly seven years, Dean Sheremet, with encouraging her to speak out.

Says Rimes: "He gives me the courage to do this."

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