Psoriasis flare-ups tend to show up at the worst times (weddings, vacations… the coronavirus pandemic).
So is it bad news when your immune system wigs out during a pandemic? Especially since psoriasis is considered an autoimmune condition?
How does coronavirus affect people with psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition linked to immune function. But there’s no data suggesting psoriasis makes you more likely to get COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus).
That said, stress and infections *can* trigger psoriasis flare-ups. Researchers have specifically recorded cases in which COVID-19 infection has triggered guttate psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
So if you get COVID-19, you could end up with a new or worse plaque attack.
Let’s scratch that itch on the effects coronavirus may have on psoriasis.
Research is still ongoing. So far, it seems like folks with psoriasis aren’t affected by COVID-19 much differently than the general population. Here’s what we know right now.
Does psoriasis increase my coronavirus risk?
The data on COVID-19 is still really new, and researchers are still figuring out which conditions and situations raise your risk.
A collection of studies published in December 2020 found that peeps with psoriasis are no more likely than the rest of the population to get COVID-19. It also found that immunosuppressive therapy and psoriatic arthritis don’t affect your odds.
That said, the folks with psoriasis who got COVID-19 reported that their skin got worse while infected.
TBH, that makes a lot of sense. Stress + infection + potential lack of access to your usual meds and creams = psoriasis attack.
Which conditions *do* raise the risk of coronavirus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says adults with these health conditions are more likely to get seriously sick from COVID-19:
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic lung disease
- neurological conditions
- Down syndrome
- heart conditions
- HIV infection
- weakened immune system (more on that below)
- liver disease
- sickle cell disease or thalassemia
- being a smoker
- organ or stem cell transplant
- substance use disorder (alcohol or drug abuse)
But what if I’m on immunosuppressants?
Since psoriasis is linked to an overactive immune system, some folks manage their symptoms with immunosuppressants and biologics.
A key point: These meds dial down hyperactive immune systems, not obliterate your virus-fighting abilities.
You’re right to wonder if immunosuppressants are no bueno while a pandemic rages. But the National Psoriasis Foundation is clear that most folks should continue with biologic and oral meds for psoriasis. Discuss this with your doctor since they’re more familiar with your condition and health history.
Any issues with psoriatic arthritis and COVID?
Maybe. Some folks with psoriatic arthritis take prescription steroids to manage their symptoms. The National Psoriasis Foundation says you should talk with your doctor about limiting steroid use during the pandemic. Steroids might result in more serious illness if you get COVID-19.
There’s also been one case of COVID-19-triggered psoriatic arthritis (ugh, double whammy). In this situation, a woman with a family history of psoriasis (but no prior symptoms) developed psoriatic arthritis after getting infected with the coronavirus.
Even though researchers have recorded several instances of COVID-triggered autoimmune issues, they’re still digging into how, why, and in which situations this is likely to happen.
What about psoriasis and the vaccine?
The CDC’s hot take: Anyone without a known allergy to the vaccine’s ingredients can safely go ahead with the shot(s). Psoriasis experts also recommend going ahead with vaccination.
The ultimate decision — to vax or not to vax — is entirely up to you.
There are several types of psoriasis and only one COVID-19 (though it’s got some variants 😬).
Psoriasis typically manifests as inflamed, itchy, scaly skin. On lighter skin it might erupt in thick, scabby-looking plaques or pink bumps or shiny patches. On darker skin psoriasis lesions can appear purple or dark brown with gray scales. The defining feature is that it affects your skin.
Fortunately, there’s not really any overlap between signs of psoriasis and coronavirus.
Here’s a recap on COVID-19 symptoms:
Most common signs:
- dry cough
Other possible symptoms:
- trouble breathing
- sore throat
- stuffy or runny nose
- general achiness
- loss of taste or smell
Got symptoms? Get tested.
What to do about exposure if you have psoriasis
Just because there doesn’t seem to be a link between coronavirus and psoriasis doesn’t mean you should stop taking precautions.
Here’s what the CDC recommends for *anyone* who’s come into close contact (<6 feet for at least 15 minutes) with someone infected with COVID-19:
- If you’re not fully vaccinated, quarantine for 14 days. Contact your local health department about testing options that could shorten your quarantine.
- Most fully vaccinated folks can just self-monitor for symptoms. No quarantine or testing necessary unless you get sick or you live or work in a correctional facility, detention center, or shelter.
Reduce your risk of exposure
You’re probably a pro at this now, but here are some ways to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus:
- Wash your hands. Soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Sanitize. No soap or sink? Give your hands a squirt of sanitizer.
- Mask up. CDC guidance is clear: unvaccinated people should still wear masks to protect those around them and reduce their own risk of exposure.
- Social distance. Avoid crowds (especially indoors) and stay 6 feet away from those outside your bubble until you’re fully vaccinated.
- Avoid nonessential travel. One way to reduce your risk of exposure is to stay in your area and stick to your social bubble until you’re fully vaccinated or until we reach herd immunity.
Again, COVID-19 and psoriasis do not seem to be related in any way. But you might be wondering how psoriasis and coronavirus treatments play together if you end up with both.
Fortunately, most folks recover safely at home. Some ways to treat symptoms at home:
- stay hydrated
- take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers as needed
Severe COVID-19 cases require medical intervention, which typically includes a hospital stay. Some current treatments include:
- antiviral meds
- treatments for serious complications like blood clots or organ damage
- antibody treatments
If you’re on meds for psoriasis and get COVID-19, tell your doctor ASAP
You might need to reduce your dose or stop taking steroids or immunosuppressants until you’re virus-free.
And whether you have psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, or no underlying conditions at all, get to the hospital if you experience trouble breathing, chest pain, or intense pressure in your chest or abdomen.
The data suggests that having psoriasis doesn’t make you any more likely to get COVID-19 than those who don’t have it. However, you could experience a psoriasis flare-up if you get COVID-19.
Some psoriasis meds might increase your risk of coronavirus by suppressing your immune system. But that doesn’t mean you should stop taking them. Never tweak prescription drugs without a health professional’s guidance.
If you test positive for COVID-19, call your primary care physician or dermatologist ASAP. They can help you figure out how to safely treat psoriasis until you’re COVID-free.