Psoriasis is a chronic skin disorder. It causes skin cells to grow abnormally fast and to build up on top of the skin. These extra cells produce thick, shiny scales with dry, itchy red patches that are sometimes painful. The patches can be small or large and may vary in intensity over time.
About 7.5 million people in the United States have psoriasis. The exact cause of psoriasis isn’t known. However, psoriasis is more common among those with a family history of the condition.
Symptoms of psoriasis
The symptoms of psoriasis may vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- red patches of skin covered in shiny scales
- dry, cracked skin that may bleed
- an itchy, sore, or burning sensation on the skin
- dense, uneven, or ribbed nails
- rigid and swollen joints
How to prevent psoriasis flare-ups
The symptoms of psoriasis may come and go, but there’s no cure for the condition. The best way to prevent symptoms is to avoid known triggers. Psoriasis triggers vary from person to person. So it’s important to identify the specific factors that make your symptoms worse and that help relieve them. Here are some things you can do to prevent psoriasis flare-ups:
The daily stresses of life can have a negative impact on anyone, but they are particularly problematic for people with psoriasis. The body tends to have an inflammatory reaction to stress. This response can cause a psoriasis flare-up.
It’s important to reduce the amount of stress in your life as much as possible. You can try:
- Psychotherapy: You may feel more relaxed after speaking with a therapist about your condition and any other factors that may be causing stress in your life.
- Yoga: Yoga promotes relaxation of the mind and body, helping to relieve stress.
- Meditation and relaxation techniques: Meditating, repeating a mantra, or doing deep-breathing exercises can help reduce stress.
Avoid certain medications
Certain medications can interfere with the body’s autoimmune response and cause inflammation, which can trigger psoriasis. These medications include:
- lithium, which is used to treat mental disorders, such as manic depression
- antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which are used to prevent malaria
- inderal, which is used to treat high blood pressure
- indomethacin, which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat arthritis
Make sure you speak with your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Your doctor may switch you to another medication or change your dosage if they suspect your medication is causing psoriasis outbreaks. Don’t stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor first, even if you believe your medication is triggering a flare-up.
Prevent skin injuries
Injuries to the skin can trigger psoriasis in some people. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Common skin injuries that trigger psoriasis include sunburns and scratches.
Taking good care of your skin can help prevent these types of injuries. When doing activities that may cause skin injury, you should always take extra precautions, including:
- using sunscreen and wearing a hat when spending time outside
- wearing long sleeves and gloves when gardening
- applying bug spray before spending time outdoors
- using caution when engaging in outdoor activities
Call your doctor right away if you notice psoriasis symptoms after a skin injury. When it’s caught early, the Koebner phenomenon can be treated effectively.
Infections are known to trigger psoriasis because they put stress on the immune system, causing an inflammatory reaction. Strep throat in particular is associated with the onset of guttate psoriasis, especially in children. However, psoriasis flare-ups may occur after an earache, tonsillitis, or a respiratory or skin infection.
It’s important to seek treatment right away if you suspect you have an infection. If you have a skin injury, such as a cut or wound, make sure to clean it properly and keep it covered to prevent infection. Other ways to prevent an infection include:
- washing your hands often throughout the day
- avoiding sharing food, drinks or eating utensils with other people
- limiting exposure to people who are sick, especially children
Eat a healthful diet
Being obese or overweight appears to make psoriasis symptoms worse. So it’s important to manage your weight by exercising and eating a healthful diet. If you have trouble with this, you may want to see a nutritionist for assistance. A nutritionist will help you figure out how much food and what particular foods you should eat every day to lose weight.
Certain foods appear to cause inflammation in the body, which can trigger psoriasis symptoms in some people. Other foods seem to help reduce inflammation and the occurrence of flare-ups.
Foods that may cause inflammation include:
- red meat
- high-fat foods
- processed foods
- refined sugars
- nightshades, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers
- citrus fruits
Foods that may reduce inflammation include:
- fatty fish, including salmon and tuna
- seeds, such as flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds
- nuts, especially walnuts and almonds
- green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale
You may also benefit from taking vitamins or supplements if your diet is lacking certain nutrients. Make sure to consult your doctor or a nutritionist before adding vitamins or supplements to your diet. Some may interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications.
Identifying your triggers is critical for reducing or preventing symptoms of psoriasis. It may not always be possible to prevent psoriasis symptoms. But sticking to your treatment plan and avoiding triggers can help keep your symptoms to a minimum. Talk to your doctor if you need help identifying your triggers or want suggestions on how to reduce your outbreaks.