Patches of bright, red skin? Check. Scaling? Check. Itching and uncomfortable skin inflammation? Check.
If you have psoriasis, you’re already well acquainted with the discomfort these symptoms can bring, and also the feeling of helplessness that can stem from trying to keep them under control.
One of the easiest ways to take control of your condition and manage your psoriasis symptoms is by tracking what triggers them. Not only does it empower you as a patient, it’s also a practical way to manage those symptoms on a daily basis. Whether it’s a food that triggers skin inflammation or stress that causes flare-ups, being a symptom sleuth can help you become better equipped to speak to your doctor about treatment.
Not sure how to get started? Try one of these three smart tracking strategies.
- Start a symptom journal. Use a small notepad that you can keep with you to document flare-ups. It’s a great way to take note of the time of day, the activities you were doing and even the foods you were eating when your flare-up occurred. Write down the symptoms you experienced in your journal and bring it with you the next time you visit your doctor. It might also be helpful to write down any self-care remedies that you've used or found to be helpful.
- Get tech savvy to track symptoms. Smartphone apps are a great, on-the-go way to keep track of your triggers, and many are free. Just keep in mind that while they make it convenient to keep tabs on your condition, they can’t replace the advice of a physician. Use them instead, as a tool to enhance and improve both your treatment plan and doctor-patient relationship. If you aren't sure which app is best for you, ask your physician what he or she might recommend.
- Try a photo record. Giving your doctor a photo visual is another way to document your psoriasis. It allows the doctor to see exactly what you’re experiencing and leaves him or her better able to provide you the best treatment for your condition. The next time your psoriasis flares up, take a picture to bring to your doctor’s appointment as a supplement to your symptom journal.
Whichever method you use, keep these things in mind as you’re tracking:
- Mood – When your body is under physical or mental stress, it triggers inflammation as a way to cope. For people with psoriasis, this can mean an over-response in the form of a flare-up. If you notice skin inflammation after a bad day at work, an argument with a spouse or loved one or you’ve been dealing with financial worries, stress could be one of your psoriasis triggers.
- Diet – Everyone is affected by food differently, so make a note if your skin becomes irritated after eating, including what you ate and when, and the symptoms you experienced afterwards. While it hasn’t been conclusively proven that food affects the disease, some people have reported flare-ups after eating gluten or dairy, possibly because both may cause inflammatory responses in the body. Other reported dietary triggers include alcohol, added sugars, fried foods and foods high in saturated fat.
- Skin Injury – Sometimes known as the Koebner phenomenon, psoriasis flare-ups often happen at the site of a skin injury, such as a cut, scrape, sunburn, bite or bruise. In this case, a photo of the skin reaction may help your doctor in providing treatment.
- Medications – Certain medications, like those prescribed for high blood pressure and depression, have been known to trigger flare-ups in some patients. Make a note about the meds you’re taking, specifically any beta-blockers, lithium, antimalarial drugs or progesterone.
- Infections – According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, anything that affects the immune system can also affect your psoriasis. This means that when your body is fighting off strep throat, bronchitis or another type of upper respiratory infection, there’s a possibility for a flare-up. You may even experience the flare-up before you’re aware that you’re sick. Make sure to mention to your doctor if your psoriasis flare-up coincides with another illness.
- Weather – Pay attention to the weather the next time your psoriasis symptoms act up. Colder, dryer air has been known to aggravate psoriasis in some people, while more damp, humid air could potentially provide relief.