Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes elevated, red, scaly and flaky patches of skin. This chronic condition often subsides and then comes back in reoccurrences called “flares.” To reduce the number of flares, it is important to understand what the common psoriasis triggers are.
Psoriasis affects more than 8 million people in the U.S., and there are several variations of the condition. What all of the subtypes have in common is that they occur when the immune system mistakes skin cells for a virus or other infection and responds by producing more skin cell growth.
Patches of psoriasis mainly occur on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp, but they can appear anywhere on the body. While genetics can play a role in determining who develops psoriasis, people have different triggers for their flares or outbreaks. Here are some of the most common psoriasis triggers:
Anything that causes inflammation in the body puts you at risk for a flare. Stress is known to cause inflammation and is, therefore, one of the most common triggers for psoriasis flares. Those with psoriasis should do what they can to reduce sources of stress. Regular exercise can help as well.
Certain weather conditions can take their toll on the skin, and this is especially true for those with psoriasis. Cold winter weather can dry out the skin, making it more susceptible to a psoriasis flare. Going from one temperature extreme to another — say, from cold outside air to very warm, humidified inside air — can further stress the skin and trigger a flare. Be sure to use a good moisturizer year-round and wear gloves when you’re exposed to cold air.
Illnesses and Injuries
Because psoriasis is an autoimmune disease — a disease in which the body attacks itself — anything that triggers an immune response and activates the immune system can make you susceptible to a flare. As such, becoming sick with viral or bacterial illnesses such as the flu, colds, strep throat or tonsillitis has the potential to cause a psoriasis flare. Wash your hands often to prevent contagious illnesses, and talk to your doctor about whether a flu shot is right for you.
In addition to viral and bacterial illnesses, simple cuts, scrapes, and sunburns can be psoriasis triggers as well. In what’s called the Koebner phenomenon, or Koebner response, areas of skin that have been physically damaged in some way can develop psoriatic lesions. The timing differs from person to person, but often the flare occurs about 10 to 20 days after the injury. Even insect bites and stings can cause this response. Vaccinations can sometimes do the same because they break the skin.
Like cuts and scrapes, getting a new tattoo can trigger the Koebner phenomenon. Because tattoos are created using tiny needles that penetrate the skin repeatedly, the injuries from each needle can trigger psoriasis flares in those locations — even if you don’t typically have lesions in that area.
Studies have shown that even a small amount of weight loss can greatly lessen psoriasis symptoms. Additionally, losing weight can lessen your risk of developing psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes those with psoriasis to develop swollen, painful joints. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about incorporating nutrition and exercise into your treatment plan in addition to other lifestyle changes and medications.
Certain medications have been known to trigger psoriasis flares. These include some blood pressure and heart medications such as Lopid, Lanoxin, Lopressor, and Atenolol. Anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — often used to treat other autoimmune illnesses — are in the same boat, as are certain medications such as lithium that are used to treat depression and other mental health disorders. Even some over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen can trigger your psoriasis.
“Before taking any medication, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor to make sure it’s not going to trigger your psoriasis or make it worse,” says Dr. John Biltz of U.S. Dermatology Partners of Waxahachie. “In many cases, your doctor can find an alternate medication or treatment that isn’t as likely to cause a flare.”
As with many conditions, diet can play a role for some people with psoriasis. Everyone is different, but for some, psoriasis flares can be triggered by various foods and ingredients, including gluten, sugar, red meat, processed foods such as chips and other snacks and nightshade plants such as eggplants and tomatoes. Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day can worsen psoriasis symptoms for some people as well. If you suspect that your eating habits are contributing to your symptoms, try an elimination diet to see if you can pinpoint your trigger foods.
Looking to Visit a Dermatologist?
While there are many common psoriasis triggers, each patient’s experience is unique. To find out how to best manage and treat your psoriasis, book a consultation with one of U.S. Dermatology Partners’ board-certified dermatologists today. We have multiple locations throughout the country, so fill out our simple online form to get in touch with us. One of our local team members will reach out to you shortly to answer your questions or schedule an appointment for you to visit us soon.
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