What Causes Psoriasis Flare-Ups: 10 Psoriasis Triggers


If you’re one of the 125 million people experiencing symptoms of psoriasis worldwide, you likely know that there isn’t currently a cure. However, you can actively manage your symptoms by paying particular attention to your flare-ups.

In some ways, psoriasis is just your body working in overdrive. Instead of taking three to four weeks to generate new skin cells, your body can do it in just a few days. This buildup of skin causes a red rash covered in thick silvery “scales.” Your fingernails may become thick and pitted, and your skin can crack and bleed. The spots range in size and location on your body. The associated itching of psoriasis flare-ups can also be quite frustrating.

Fortunately, you can predict many psoriasis flare-ups because they’re caused by environmental factors known as “triggers”. Triggers can be what cause psoriasis flare-ups, based on your specific genetic cocktail, meaning others may also come in contact with these triggers with no adverse effects. Everyone’s genetics vary and not everyone has the same psoriasis triggers. Still, knowing your triggers is the first step to relief.

When you understand your triggers and stick to a regular treatment plan, you can increase your quality of life. Here are 10 common psoriasis triggers that could be what causes your psoriasis flare-ups.

Problems with the Immune System in Psoriasis

The National Psoriasis Foundation underscores the role of the immune system in psoriasis flare-ups. Typically, psoriasis symptoms arise when the immune system mistakenly targets healthy skin cells. This phenomenon leads to the rapid growth of new skin cells, accumulating on the surface and forming plaques characteristic of plaque psoriasis. Dermatologists note that factors such as stress, certain drugs, and even skin problems like burns or bug bites can exacerbate this immune response.

There is a connection between psoriasis flares and other immune-related conditions. For example, individuals with psoriasis are more likely to develop psoriatic arthritis, a condition affecting the joints. There are risks associated with comorbidities, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, often found in those with psoriasis. Lifestyle changes, such as reducing alcohol consumption and obesity, are advised to manage these risks.

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Genetics and Psoriasis

Genetics plays a crucial role in the development of psoriasis. The information from the National Psoriasis Foundation indicates that if someone in your family has psoriasis, your risk of developing the condition increases. This genetic link explains why psoriasis often appears in multiple family members.

Certain genes are responsible for the immune system’s function and response to external triggers. For instance, a family history of allergies or autoimmune diseases can heighten the likelihood of psoriasis symptoms. This genetic predisposition can be a double-edged sword, offering scientists insights into potential therapeutic targets while posing challenges in managing the condition.

Understanding these genetic factors can guide doctors in diagnosis and treatment. It can also lead to personalised medical advice for patients, considering their unique genetic makeup. Awareness of one’s genetic predisposition can influence lifestyle choices and medical decisions, such as the cautious use of certain drugs like beta-blockers, known to trigger psoriasis flares in some individuals.

Common Psoriasis Triggers

Whether symptoms are getting worse or you’re simply trying to better manage your flare-ups as a whole, you must address any potential underlying causes. To soothe symptoms of this chronic skin condition, you must first understand what causes psoriasis to flare up, to begin with.

What causes psoriasis flare-ups can sometimes be random, but there are a variety of key triggers that have been known to make symptoms worse for many. It’s important to note that you should document your flare-ups so you can identify any potential patterns for yourself. Also, remain mindful of the severity of flare-ups concerning some possible causes listed below. The greater understanding you have of your personal psoriasis triggers, the more successful your treatment plan can be.

1| Stress

Stress can cause psoriasis flare-ups, making the itching sensation worse. This can occur when you’re living with chronic stress, or generally experience an increase in stress levels. Psoriasis flare-ups can also contribute to ongoing stress, creating a vicious cycle. When you are experiencing feelings of stress, your body begins to release chemicals that boost an inflammatory response. This means that your mental health can influence your physical symptoms.

Psoriasis has a stronger association with psychiatric disorders than other skin conditions. Research shows that mental stress precedes the first psoriasis attack in 44 per cent of patients, and triggers flare-ups in 88 per cent.

While you may not be able to live a completely stress-free life, there are some ways to reduce the mental stress you experience. Consider taking part in activities that will help you remain calm, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Whether you begin to exercise, start a gratitude journal, or spend more time in nature, this step will support both your mental health and physical health.

2| Trauma and Injury to Skin

While “injury” might sound serious, skin traumas/injuries that cause psoriasis flare-ups can be quite small. Knicks and cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and even insect bites can all trigger your skin’s overreaction, which is also known as the Koebner response. Lesions may also develop on parts of the body where the skin is irritated due to a bra or waistband. While most people know the pain of a sunburn— complete with blisters, heat, and peeling skin— this type of skin injury can be even more uncomfortable and unsightly if you have psoriasis.

3| Smoking and Alcohol Use

Smoking has been shown to trigger flare-ups and increase your risk of developing psoriasis in the first place. The more you smoke, and the longer you’ve smoked for, will increase your risk. One study found that those who smoke over 20 cigarettes per day, double their risk of having severe psoriasis. There are several theories for this, including a genetic tendency for psoriasis. Smoking may trigger these genes, in addition to altering the immune system.
Alcohol is also believed to worsen symptoms of psoriasis. Even light to moderate consumption may exacerbate flare-ups.

4| Medication Use

Many medications can worsen symptoms of psoriasis as well. This is most commonly seen in β-blockers, lithium, and other medicines that treat mood disorders. However, even antibiotics, ibuprofen, or aspirin could be the culprit, so it’s important to discuss all potential medications with your doctor/physician and look into additional alternatives. Vaccinations may also trigger a flare-up for those with psoriasis.

5| Changes in Weather

If you think you’ve noticed a difference in your psoriasis as the weather changes, you may be right! Some people experience more skin changes when the temperature (and/or humidity) drops. When the temperature is cold and the air is dry, symptoms of psoriasis worsen. This is because:

  • Cold, dry weather extracts moisture from your skin
  • Cold weather keeps people inside, where heaters further dry out your skin
  • There is less sunlight during the cold winter months


In contrast, warmer weather and natural sunlight may improve psoriasis flare-ups, as moderate exposure can help relieve symptoms.

6| Hormones

Psoriasis can be aggravated by your body’s natural changes, which is why hormones are considered another trigger. The effect is most noticeable for young women going through puberty and older people who are experiencing menopause. People who become pregnant may also experience a resurgence of patchy and scaly skin, even if their psoriasis is otherwise under control because this is a time when hormones greatly increase (and drastically drop after childbirth). For some people, the opposite is true, and pregnancy brings relief! And if you notice flare-ups at the same point of your menstrual cycle, hormones could be impacting your psoriasis.

7| Heavy Weight

Although the relationship between psoriasis and excess weight isn’t clear, being overweight has been known to worsen symptoms. One theory is that carrying extra fat cells releases cytokines, which are inflammatory chemicals. Losing even a small amount of weight may help reduce the severity of itchy, sore patches.

8| Infections

Infections, especially streptococcal “strep” throat infections, cause a specific form of psoriasis known as guttate psoriasis. While strep throat is common in children, psoriasis, fortunately, doesn’t develop in many cases. Still, it’s more common for strep throat to trigger a flare-up in children and young adults, and it never hurts for parents to be aware of this possible side effect of a common childhood infection.
Although less common, other infections can also trigger a psoriasis episode due to infections triggering an immune response. This is why flare-ups sometimes occur with ear infections, bronchitis, tonsillitis, and fungal, or respiratory infections as well.

9| Immune Disorders

Other conditions can also cause a psoriasis flare-up or the condition’s first appearance. Immune disorders top this list, with HIV receiving the most attention of. But psoriasis is considered an immune-related condition, so it’s reasonable that other immune system disorders could interplay with psoriasis flare-ups.

10| Diet & Specific Foods

Consuming a healthy, balanced diet is a good idea for anyone. However, if you suffer from psoriasis, your eating habits can directly affect your skin.

While more research is needed, eating an increase of inflammation-fighting foods is recommended. These include berries, leafy greens, salmon, antioxidant-rich spices and herbs, nuts, and seeds. If you’re instead wondering what foods trigger psoriasis flare-ups, look to foods that commonly increase inflammation including dairy, processed foods, and refined sugars.

Note: The strongest food-related evidence found is the effect psoriasis can have on weight loss and gluten-free diets.
Since each individual is unique, maintain a detailed food journal. Patterns in psoriasis flare-ups can be used to eliminate foods one at a time to see if these changes affect your symptoms. If no changes are noticed after a couple of weeks, narrow it down by removing another food from your diet. It’s important to note that some healthy foods can also be to blame, so do not automatically assume only junk food is the culprit— for example, nightshade plants like eggplant and tomatoes can trigger psoriasis in some people.

How to Control Psoriasis Flare-Ups

To better control your flare-ups, start by addressing the above triggers of what causes psoriasis most often. If these items don’t soothe your psoriasis, here are some other helpful options:


It’s important to moisturize your skin regularly, as symptoms of psoriasis get worse when your skin is dry. Using products such as Keralyt 5 Cream and Keralyt 5 Gel, which contain exfoliating Beta Hydroxy Acid to help your skin look/feel better quicker after a psoriasis episode, helps many living with psoriasis. During cold winter months, you may need to apply multiple times daily (along with heavily moisturizing immediately after bathing). Cutar Emulsion – Psoriasis Lotion can also be applied to any affected area. This steroid-free cream lotion can be mixed with water for therapeutic soaks as well.
Also, don’t forget to take care of your scalp. There are many formulations available depending on your personal needs. For example, Tarsum Relief Shampoo is designed to exfoliate scales on your scalp.
Regardless of the skin condition you suffer from, it’s important to work with your physician, address your current lifestyle, and invest in quality products that work, like those offered at Summer Laboratories. Shop now to find the best product for you!

Conclusion

Understanding the complexities of psoriasis, from the intricacies of the immune system’s role to the genetic factors at play, is key to effectively managing this condition. By recognising the triggers of psoriasis flares, such as stress, skin trauma, certain drugs, and lifestyle factors like obesity and alcohol consumption, individuals can take proactive steps to mitigate these risks.


Sources:
https://www.psoriasis.org/psoriasis-statistics/#
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/a-deeper-look-at-psoriasis#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20is%20stress,to%20worsen%20with%20weight%20gai
https://www.medicinenet.com/how_do_you_stop_psoriasis_from_stress/article.htm
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553108/
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/401096
https://www.psoriasis.org/causes/
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/1690928
https://www.psoriasis.org/guttate/
https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis/psoriasis-avoid-foods
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5453925/

Author

  • Michael Reed

    Michael Reed is a medical writer at Sumlab, focusing on dermatological studies and treatments. His articles help demystify complex clinical results for a broad audience.

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