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How to manage pain during psoriasis flare-ups

How to manage pain during psoriasis flare-ups

Better treatments and understanding of the condition mean those with psoriasis can live relatively normal lives now
Psoriasis is a skin condition that could flare up due to different reasons. Learn how to identify the trigger and control the flare ups.

When Lubna Shariff was 17, red itchy patches started to appear on her arms. The Bengaluru-based entrepreneur would eventually learn that she had psoriasis.
At that time, in 1997, treatment for psoriasis wasn’t available in the city, recalls Lubna. “I went to various doctors to seek treatment. Unfortunately, I did not get any treatment. Rather, I was misdiagnosed. There was hardly any awareness about psoriasis at that time,” she says. Those who suffer from psoriasis often rue the social stigma associated with the skin condition.


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However, psoriasis can still be a very painful condition. People describe their pain as “stinging, aching, burning, throbbing and cramping among other things”. If you have painful psoriasis, here’s what you need to know about managing your condition.

Identifying and controlling triggers of psoriasis

Some factors can spark a psoriasis flare-up in those predisposed to the condition. Certain triggers have a more profound effect on some than others. Figuring out what your triggers are is important so you can actively avoid them and, hence, avoid itchy and painful flare-ups.

The most common for those with psoriasis include dry or cold weather, smoking, alcohol, stress, skin injuries like cuts or scratches, infections, excess sun exposure and fatty foods, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

You can identify what your triggers are by recalling if you experienced any of the common ones when you have psoriasis flare-ups. You can also maintain a diary or journal to record your eating and drinking habits, weather exposure, mental health and lifestyle choices.

Soak in a bathtub or take a shower

Soaking in a bathtub for about 15 minutes with Epsom salt, colloidal oatmeal or olive oil can help relieve painful itching during flare-ups. This also helps remove scales, and moisturizes and soothes the skin. If you don’t have a bathtub, taking a shower for five minutes will also provide relief. Use lukewarm or cold water as hot water can make your skin dry and increase inflammation.

You should use gentle soaps or cleansers that are made for sensitive skin, according to AAD. It also advises that you wash your skin gently with your hands and avoid loofahs or washing clothes as that can irritate your skin.

When you finish bathing, dry your skin gently by patting down with a towel. Avoid rubbing hard. Apply a moisturizer afterwards.

Psoriasis flare ups: Lotions and ointments are your friends

“Moisturizer is my best friend,” says Lubna. She and many others with psoriasis testify that using moisturizer regularly has helped them a lot.

If you have psoriasis, moisturizers and body lotions will help keep your skin hydrated, reduce scaling and prevent itchy, painful skin. They will also help your skin heal much faster. Use them every day all over your body, especially after baths. Daily use of moisturizers can help reduce the intensity of psoriasis breakouts.

Ointments can also help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. They should be used when you have pain or an active psoriasis flare-up. Apply them sparingly on the site of the inflammation or breakout.

The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends heavy creams and ointments that lock water into the skin. It is also advised that you avoid products with fragrance since they can irritate your skin. Also avoid products with alcohol as these may dry out your skin.

Consider medications to control flare ups

Lubna has been on medications for psoriasis for the last three years. She hasn’t had a flare-up ever since.

Sometimes psoriasis is too severe and medication is required to keep flare-ups and pain under control. Your doctor may prescribe you medications to suppress the psoriasis and additional painkillers to help with the pain.

If your psoriasis pain is unmanageable, talk to your doctor about medication and the right course for you. Usually your doctor will start you off with a mild medication, observe how you respond and then put you on a stronger medication if necessary.

Manage stress

Stress is to those with psoriasis what kryptonite is to Superman. Those with psoriasis must avoid stress since it can trigger or worsen the symptoms. Too much stress can also lead to other mental health conditions which can make your fight against psoriasis more challenging.

“Psoriasis is a very smart condition. It can sense your mood. When I am under a lot of stress, I can have flare-ups. So I have to remind myself to prioritize my health and I try to breathe and calm myself down. Reducing stress makes fighting the psoriasis easier,” says Lubna.

Consider ways to manage stress such as journaling, exercising, meditating, listening to music, yoga or therapy.

Stay physically active

Exercise releases endorphins that help in reducing pain and also improve your mood. Exercise can also reduce inflammation and help you sleep better, which in turn reduces stress.

Exercise can also reduce your risk of developing obesity (or help you counter obesity if you already have it). Obesity has been observed to increase inflammation and worsen symptoms in those with psoriasis.

Exercise can also help with psoriatic arthritis by reducing stiffness in the joints.


Psoriasis can be a very painful condition of the skin and joints. But there are ways to keep the pain under control and reduce redness, dryness and itching.

But if your symptoms worsen or medications seem to provide no relief, speak to your doctor immediately. Describe your pain as accurately as you can so your doctor knows exactly what you are experiencing and can put you on the right treatment.

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