5 Ways to Deal With Psoriasis Symptoms

·5 min read
Photo credit: Ridofranz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ridofranz - Getty Images

A psoriasis flare-up can affect every part of your daily life—the discomfort can be so bad that it’s hard to focus on anything else. And it doesn’t just feel like it’s taking over; it actually does affect your whole body.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition that’s thought to be a result of an overactive immune system. With psoriasis, your body can make new skin cells in days rather than weeks, leading to thick scaly patches. It can also be associated with painful arthritis.

While there is no cure for the disease, science has made huge strides in giving you ways to mitigate some of the discomfort of itching and get back to living life. Try these five.

Keep an eye on stress

Keeping your skin healthy and comfortable requires examining every part of your life. Excess stress can alter the function of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls things like blood pressure and stress hormones, says Evan A. Rieder, M.D., a dermatologist at NYU Langone. “When that gets out of whack, cortisol goes up and lots of different inflammatory conditions of the skin, including psoriasis, can flare.”

Mental health and dermatology are incredibly interconnected, says Mohammad Jafferany, MD, a psychiatrist who specializes in the connection between mental health and dermatology, an emerging field called psychodermatology. He says psoriasis is often misunderstood in society (many people think it’s contagious when it’s not) and that people with it can often feel excluded, judged, or even exiled. Educating friends, family members, and those you work with about the condition can go a long way toward easing tension, he says.

Fill up on protein and iron

If you find yourself shedding skin, know that with the skin you’re losing, you’re also losing both iron and protein — the skin is rich in both, says Adnan Nasir, M.D., Men’s Health advisor and a dermatologist in Raleigh, NC. If you’re shedding, he suggests adding an extra 10 to 20 grams of protein a day for every 100 pounds that you weigh and either getting your iron levels tested or adding a weekly iron supplement into your diet. There’s no one diet that will heal psoriasis completely but protein is one of the main building blocks of your skin, making it essential for healthy skin. Iron is antimicrobial, working to help keep infections at bay.

Photo credit: secret agent mike - Getty Images
Photo credit: secret agent mike - Getty Images

Keep your gut happy

Notice psoriasis flares and bowel issues at the same time? Feel like every time you eat a bagel your skin flares up? “There is a connection between the gut immune system and the skin immune system,” says Dr. Nasir.

Sometimes, cutting out (or back on) gluten can make both your stomach and your skin happier. If your skin improves after going gluten-free, it’s likely your digestive system is improving too, absorbing more nutrients, he says.

Other times, you might be low on vitamin D. Since psoriasis increases the growth of skin cells and vitamin D may slow the growth, adding vitamin D-rich foods (sockeye salmon, mackerel, tuna fish canned in water) could help.

While everyone is different, it’s worth noting if your stomach acts up around when your skin acts up.

Get some sunshine

Getting outside is a great way to keep psoriasis symptoms at bay—not only because of the vitamin D in sunlight but also because of the UV rays. In fact, phototherapy — which is a form of light therapy — is another first-line treatment for many types of psoriasis, says Dr. Nasir. It works especially well for people who notice that their psoriasis flares in the winter and feels better in the summer — or after being exposed to sunlight. UV rays temporarily and effectively suppress the immune system, dampening psoriasis’ symptoms, he explains.

If you’re going to try sun exposure, remember that you don’t need much exposure to potentially see relief — start with a few minutes a day to minimize flares.

Find the right course of treatment

In general, a combination of topical prescriptions is the first line of defense against itchy psoriasis flares. Topical vitamin D can also be a first-line treatment.

Relief might also be found in less likely places: One study published in the Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences found that some mild to moderate cases may be successfully managed with topical application of honey and/or aloe vera.

If and when topical treatments don’t seem to be working, or aren’t working well enough, doctors will often consider prescribing oral medication. And while it’s still unclear how effective oral treatments can be in the long term, according to one study, it’s evident that they work pretty reliably in the short term as long as the patient is actively taking them.

If your psoriasis is more severe and other options aren't working, or if your psoriasis is in places like your scalp or nails (making topicals difficult), it may be time to look into biologic treatments. Biologics are newer targeted immune-suppressing drugs that block your body’s reactions to psoriasis. The treatments are injectables that can even be done at home.

They’re also a “no-brainer” if psoriasis is impacting the joints, says Dr. Rieder. Many biologics can stop or slow joint damage, making them particularly important for anyone with joint pain or psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis that can impact those with psoriasis.

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