A few studies suggest some people with psoriasis may experience flares after getting COVID-19 or the vaccine. However, further research is still needed to understand the exact connection.

Psoriasis is a common autoimmune condition in which problems with the immune system lead to excess skin cell turnover. This results in the raised and itchy skin patches seen in the most common form, plaque psoriasis.

While the cause of psoriasis is unknown, a combination of genes and environmental triggers may play a role.

Researchers are investigating whether having COVID-19 or getting the COVID-19 vaccine triggers new psoriasis diagnoses or flare-ups, or whether such reports may be a coincidence.

Here’s what you need to know about these potential connections as well as the other causes and treatment options for psoriasis.

Soon after the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, there were reports of people getting psoriasis symptoms for the first time or flare-ups in those who already had a diagnosis. Researchers have since tried to understand whether any connection exists.

In one small 2022 study, researchers assessed five people who had such experiences. Of these five people, one developed psoriasis. The other four people already had psoriasis but experienced worsening symptoms after receiving their second or third COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Researchers also noted anecdotal reports of psoriasis flares after people developed COVID-19. They hypothesized that inflammation from the disease was likely the cause of worsened symptoms and suggested that similar immune responses may explain flares from the vaccine, too.

A 2024 review looked at the possible links between the COVID-19 vaccine and plaque psoriasis among 71 adults.

Researchers noted a timeline of symptom onset, ranging from just a few days to several months. Results suggest that flares were more likely to occur sooner with the second vaccine dose versus the first. Researchers determined a median timeline of 7 days for people with a new onset of psoriasis.

The presence of co-morbidities (two or more serious conditions) could also play a role in psoriasis development and flares after vaccination, with researchers suggesting that increased underlying inflammation could contribute.

High cholesterol and obesity were the most common of these co-morbidities.

While none of the current research definitively connects COVID-19 vaccines with psoriasis development and flare-ups, research does suggest a possible inflammatory response could trigger symptoms in some people.

COVID-19 vaccine and psoriasis flares

The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination usually outweigh any possible risks of psoriasis developing or worsening.

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Anyone can develop psoriasis at any age. However, it’s most common in adults.

Psoriasis is a common condition with no single known cause. Like other autoimmune disorders, it’s thought that a combination of genetics and environmental triggers causes it.

Researchers continue to investigate the genetic components of psoriasis. So far, they do know that this skin condition tends to run in families, and carrying certain genes might increase the risk of developing it. However, not everyone with a genetic risk develops psoriasis.

Certain factors can trigger psoriasis in some people if they have a genetic predisposition for this condition. Examples include:

  • illnesses and infections
  • skin injuries
  • stress
  • cold, dry environments
  • smoking
  • heavy alcohol use
  • certain types of medications, such as immunosuppressive drugs and lithium
  • obesity

As the above research suggests, COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine may also trigger flares in some people, though exact causation hasn’t been found. A doctor may determine that the benefits of vaccination outweigh any possible risks.

Like other autoimmune diseases, psoriasis doesn’t yet have a cure.

However, a variety of treatments can help manage symptoms and improve your quality of life. These include topicals for mild psoriasis and systemic treatments for more moderate to severe forms.

A doctor will likely refer you to a dermatologist for psoriasis treatment. A dermatologist is a type of doctor who specializes in treating skin diseases.

Depending on their findings, a dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Topical medications: These include creams and ointments that reduce inflammation, such as corticosteroids, retinoids, and topical vitamin D.
  • Antimetabolites: These help suppress an overactive immune system. The most commonly prescribed form is methotrexate, which comes in both oral and injectable options.
  • Biologics: This group of injectable medications works by reducing inflammation after targeting different molecules in your immune system.
  • Phototherapy: This treatment method utilizes UV light to help treat psoriasis that covers large sections of your body.
  • Oral retinoids: These are vitamin A-derivative medications that are sometimes prescribed alongside phototherapy.
  • PDE4 inhibitors: These medications target immune cell enzymes to help reduce psoriasis inflammation and other symptoms.
  • TYK2 inhibitors: On the flip side, these medications work by blocking the cells that activate immune proteins and lead to inflammation.

Just as psoriasis doesn’t currently have a cure, there are no known ways to prevent it at this time.

Scientists are still working to understand why psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to attack its own cells and tissues.

In the meantime, the best way to prevent psoriasis flare-ups is to try to avoid any known triggers when you can. Keep in mind that psoriasis triggers are individual, and not everyone has the same triggers.

If you’re concerned that certain vaccines might trigger psoriasis flares, consider talking with a doctor about next steps. Also talk with a doctor if you experience a flare-up after a sickness or vaccine, including those related to COVID-19.

Also, if you don’t currently have a psoriasis diagnosis but are concerned you may have symptoms, speaking with a doctor for an evaluation can be beneficial. While psoriasis is a lifelong condition, treating it early can help you manage it more effectively.

Once you have a psoriasis diagnosis, you will need to visit a doctor regularly to monitor your condition and determine whether you need treatment modifications.

What triggers psoriasis?

Several things can trigger psoriasis, such as stress, infection, or heavy alcohol use. However, it’s important to remember that psoriasis triggers can differ for each individual.

Does psoriasis mean you are immunocompromised?

Having psoriasis does not automatically mean you are immunocompromised. However, the medications used to treat psoriasis can compromise the immune system.

Is psoriasis related to the COVID vaccine?

Further research is still needed to understand whether psoriasis can be related to the COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers investigating the link suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine or COVID itself may trigger new psoriasis diagnoses or flare-ups.

Researchers hypothesize it may be possible to develop new psoriasis or worsening symptoms after COVID-19 infection or vaccination.

However, more research is needed to understand these possible connections. While increased inflammation could play a role, more data can help determine the exact relationship.

In the meantime, it’s important to continue working with a doctor for psoriasis treatment and follow their vaccination recommendations.