Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that affects your skin, and flare-ups are caused when your immune system attacks your skin cells. Triggers can be different for each person, but flu season can increase the risk of flare-ups in many patients, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).
How flu can trigger a psoriasis flare
People who take immunosuppressive medications, such as biologics, for psoriasis are at a greater risk of developing the flu than those who do not take these medications, according to the NPF. To make matters worse, you may need to stop taking biologics while you are sick, increasing the chance that you will not only need to deal with the symptoms of the flue but a psoriasis flare, as well.
Any infection, including the flu, can trigger a psoriasis flare, especially Guttate psoriasis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When you have an infection, your immune system kicks into gear and sometimes the immune system doesn’t stop at fighting the infection: it continues on, causing your psoriasis to flare.
Strep throat has been associated with the onset of psoriasis symptoms in young children. Other infections, such as the flu, earaches, tonsillitis, or respiratory infections can cause flares of the disease, as well. People with psoriasis who are on immunosuppressant drugs are especially vulnerable to getting the flu.
Make sure you receive the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine is an important step toward preventing the flu but it has its risks for people with psoriasis. If you are on immunosuppressant drugs, you should receive only inactive flu vaccines according to the NPF. Inactive vaccines are delivered via injection and the live virus is available via a nasal spray. If you are on biologics, you should not be given the nasal spray. Live vaccines may not cause a psoriasis flare, but the live viruses might be too strong for your immune system and could make you ill.
Try to get the vaccine early in the season. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You should also encourage other family members to be vaccinated against the flu. The vaccine is not 100 percent effective and if you take immunosuppressant medications, you are at risk of catching the flu from someone in your household.
The vaccine can put you at risk of the Koebner response. If you have psoriasis, you might already know that any skin trauma can cause psoriasis lesions at the sight of the injury. This is called the Koebner response, and can occur after an injection. Be sure to treat the injection site afterward by washing gently with warm water and a gentle soap. Wear soft fabrics in order to avoid scratching or irritating the site, and keep the area moisturized.
What to do if you get the flu
While the flu vaccine helps, it does not always prevent the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing your hands often, and keeping your hands away from your face — especially your mouth, nose, and eyes.
You should also take steps to stay healthy during the flu season. Exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough rest are all important. Vitamin supplements may also help, but check with your doctor before deciding which are best, or if they're recommended at all. Managing stress is also important, because when stress levels are high, your immune system may not be working optimally.
If you do get the flu, stay home and take care of yourself. Contact your doctor right away, especially if you are on immunosuppressant medications, as you may need to discontinue these medications while you are ill. There are antiviral medications to treat the flu that are more effective when taken within 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms.
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