Causes of Psoriasis Symptoms You Might Not Suspect
A minor cut, a change in the weather, or a stressful day might not lead to symptoms for most people, but for those with psoriasis, it could trigger an itchy, burning rash — known as a psoriasis flare. Psoriasis triggers can vary dramatically from person to person, says April Abernethy, ND, director of medical programs at the National Psoriasis Foundation. Knowing about these unusual triggers for psoriasis — plus how to avoid them and a potential flare — can help you better manage your condition.
Stress doesn’t just lead to symptoms like tension headaches — it’s also one of the biggest triggers for psoriasis flares. Under stressful conditions, the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, was noticeably higher among people with psoriasis than it was in those without the condition, according to research published in the British Journal of Dermatology in April 2014. The study also found that stress could make psoriasis worse. Stephanie Waits, MPH, 27, a health educator at San Diego State University, has first-hand experience with this. The more stressed she is, the more likely she is to have a psoriasis flare. And, she says, “if I have a mini-flare and get stressed, the stress causes it to get worse.”
“I find the main thing that flares my psoriasis is my health, especially when I get a bad cold or the flu,” says Simon Jury, 41, a credit controller and psoriasis blogger in Essex in the United Kingdom. Doctors back up this claim: When you add the stress of fighting the flu or another infection to an immune system that’s already affected by an inflammatory condition like psoriasis, it can cause a flare, Dr. Abernethy says.
For many people with psoriasis, the weather can either be a psoriasis trigger or prevent psoriasis symptoms. For Jury, the bitterly cold winter weather where he lives often causes flares. But Waits finds that living in a sunny, humid climate like San Diego helps keep her psoriasis symptoms under control. Abernethy says that any extreme in temperature can be irritating to the skin. Even taking too hot of a shower can trigger psoriasis symptoms. She advises avoiding extremes in temperature as much as possible.
Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and spirits can trigger a psoriasis flare in some people. The quantity of alcohol consumed matters, too. “I’m not a heavy drinker, but on the rare occasion that I overindulge, I do find my skin can be quite irritated for the next few days,” Jury says. Abernethy says that alcohol can indeed exacerbate psoriasis symptoms for some people. Drinking beer in particular has been linked to a higher risk for developing psoriasis in women.
Dietary triggers for psoriasis can be different for each person. “Sugar is one of my triggers,” Waits says. “When I cut out as much sugar as I can, I’ve noticed that my psoriasis is easier to manage and my treatment works better.” Whether or not you’re sensitive to sugar, Abernethy says that keeping your diet clean by eating whole foods and healthy fats, rather than a highly processed diet, can make it easier to get the nutrition you need and reduce psoriasis symptoms.
Medications for other conditions can be a psoriasis trigger for some people. Drugs known to aggravate psoriasis include lithium — which is used to treat psychiatric disorders — and antimalarial drugs, such as quinacrine, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine. Medications that have been linked to psoriasis symptoms include propranolol, which is used to treat high blood pressure, the heart disease drug quinidine, and the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin. If you’re concerned that your medications for other health conditions may be affecting your psoriasis, talk to your doctor.
In what’s known as the Koebner phenomenon, an injury or trauma to the skin — such as a cut, burn, bug bite, or even getting a tattoo — can sometimes trigger a psoriasis flare. Waits says she’s experienced psoriasis flares triggered by the Koebner phenomenon after getting cuts or small burns from a curling iron or stove top.