What Are Common Environmental Triggers for Psoriasis?

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on January 8, 2016Written by Natalie Silver on January 8, 2016

If you have psoriasis, you may notice that particular factors tend to make your symptoms worse. These can include stress, cool weather, or skin injuries. It’s important to understand what triggers can set off your psoriasis so you can avoid them or learn how to manage any interaction. This can help to reduce psoriasis flare-ups.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that attacks your skin cells. This causes your skin cells to turn over more quickly than normal. Psoriasis is a genetic condition. It’s not contagious. Those with psoriasis have the condition for their entire life, but the symptoms can come and go at any time. Most people are diagnosed with psoriasis between the ages of 15 and 30. You can be diagnosed at any age, though.

More than 7.5 million people in the United States have some form of psoriasis. Approximately 80 percent of those cases are plaque psoriasis. This type of psoriasis causes red bumps or silvery scales to appear on the skin’s surface. Common symptoms are irritation, itching, soreness, and occasional bleeding.

There are many other types of psoriasis, such as:

  • guttate, which appears as small dot-like lesions on the body
  • inverse, which appears as red lesions in body folds
  • pustular, which appears as blisters surrounded by red skin
  • erythrodermic, which appears as a widespread red, fiery rash on the body that’s severe in nature

You can also have psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints.

Psoriasis can be treated through topical creams, light therapy, and oral medications. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure. Because psoriasis is a lifelong condition, it’s best to learn how to manage psoriasis flare-ups. Environmental factors can sometimes trigger psoriasis.

Severe psoriasis: Managing a flare-up »

What are environmental factors?

Environmental factors can worsen psoriasis symptoms. Although you inherit psoriasis as a chronic disease through your genes, outside factors can trigger acute psoriasis outbreaks. These factors include:

  • injuries to the skin
  • stress
  • cold weather
  • alcohol
  • certain medications

Other factors that are thought to trigger psoriasis include:

  • smoking
  • infections
  • diet
  • obesity

These factors can increase the condition’s level of severity or trigger the appearance of psoriasis for the first time. They can also cause a skin reaction similar to a psoriasis patch. Although these triggers haven’t been proven to directly cause psoriasis, they’re known to contribute to it.

Skin injury

If you have a sunburn, bug bite, vaccination, or scratch, there’s a chance your psoriasis will be triggered. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. If you notice psoriasis-like symptoms after a skin injury, speak with your doctor to determine a treatment plan.

Stress

Feeling stressed can impact your immune system and cause it to go into overdrive. This can result in a psoriasis flare-up. Meditation and exercise can help reduce your levels of stress. Other options to relieve stress include taking a course in stress management or seeing a therapist or counselor.

Cold weather

You may find that psoriasis flare-ups are more common during the colder months. This is because of dry air, decreased exposure to sunlight, and cold temperatures. To prevent psoriasis flare-ups in cooler weather, keep your skin moisturized.

Using a heavy, ointment-based moisturizer after bathing or showering can be an effective way to treat psoriasis. Try applying it several times a day in cold weather for optimal results. You can also use a humidifier to keep your skin moisturized.

Alcohol

Consuming large amounts of alcohol can also trigger your psoriasis. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, some studies show that abstinence from alcohol diminishes the severity of psoriasis.

Alcohol can also inhibit psoriasis treatments, causing your symptoms to remain present despite your efforts to manage them.

Medications

There are many types of medications that can cause psoriasis to flare up. Some of these medications include:

  • beta-blockers
  • lithium
  • antibiotics
  • antimalarial drugs
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

You should make sure your doctor knows of all the medications you’re currently taking to ensure you’re not using ones that trigger your psoriasis.

Managing environmental factors

It’s important to understand what might trigger your psoriasis so you can reduce your chance of having a flare-up. If you notice that certain symptoms arise after encountering one of these outside influences, take note of it. Talk with your doctor about ways you can combat outbreaks caused by these triggers. Learning how to manage your psoriasis can prevent future flare-ups, optimizing your health.

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