Guide to Living with Psoriasis During The COVID-19 Pandemic: Help, Resources, and Making a Personal Checklist
Does Having Psoriasis Put You at Higher Risk for Contracting COVID-19?
Experts donâ€™t have enough information to say whether people with psoriasis are more likely to contract COVID-19 compared with the rest of the population. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, â€œit is not known whether having psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis meaningfully alters the risks of contracting SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19 illness) or having a worse course of COVID-19 illness.â€
What is known is that people with psoriasis, particularly those who have severe cases, are more prone to other serious medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). â€œWe know that all those comorbidities increase the risk for people of having bad outcomes from COVID-19,â€ says Joel Gelfand, MD, professor of dermatology and a practicing dermatologist and epidemiologist at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia
If you have psoriasis and high blood pressure, for example, or psoriasis and diabetes, you would be well-advised to take every precaution against coronavirus infection, Dr. Gelfand adds â€” especially if you are also in the higher-risk group of people who are 65 or older.
Are There Extra Safety Precautions People With Psoriasis Should Take to Avoid Exposure?
â€œFor my patients with psoriasis, I explain the importance of social distancing, regular hand-washing, wearing a mask when outside of their house, and things of that nature,â€ says Gelfand. â€œI think working from home as much as possible is a good way to limit exposure as well.â€
The standard recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) make the most sense to follow, Gelfand adds.
How Will Your Psoriasis Be Affected if You Test Positive for COVID-19?
â€œWe donâ€™t know for certain how COVID-19 will impact psoriasis,â€ says Gelfand. â€œThere are some anecdotal reports coming out of people having flares in psoriasis when theyâ€™ve been infected.â€
Some of these reports describe what has happened to people with psoriasis whoâ€™ve gone on Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), a drug that has been used in COVID-19 treatment that is known to aggravate psoriasis, notes Gelfand. â€œThereâ€™s also some data from when people who become infected and stopped their immune- suppressing drugs, such as cyclosporine, and then had their psoriasis get worse.â€
â€œIn general, viral infections often make psoriasis flare in people because it revs up the bodyâ€™s immune response, and psoriasis is an immunologic disease,â€ says Gelfand. â€œIt wouldnâ€™t be surprising to me if some people experienced flares of psoriasis related to having the COVID-19 infection.â€
Doing a little research and making plans accordingly can help reduce some of the confusion and anxiety around COVID-19. Understanding if and how your medication should change during the pandemic and making sure you can follow your doctorâ€™s treatment plan in any scenario are important items to check off your list.
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Are There Changes to Formal Psoriasis Treatment Guidelines to Follow?
â€œThere have been a variety of recommendations that have come out from different organizations, including the International Psoriasis Council, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the National Psoriasis Foundation,â€ says Gelfand. For the most part, what those groups recommend is communication and shared decision-making between the patient and the physician on a case-by-case basis, he says.
â€œThereâ€™s still a lot of uncertainty out there; weâ€™re still trying to gather and interpret the scientific evidence because right now we donâ€™t really know the safety of some of our therapies in the setting of having COVID-19 infection,â€ he says. Until thereâ€™s more data, itâ€™s really an individual decision between the patient and the physician about whether or not the uncertainty is outweighed by the benefits of being on therapy, he adds.
There is currently a clinical trial underway in Italy to assess the prevalence and incidence of COVID-19 in people with chronic plaque psoriasis who are on immunosuppressant therapies, including biologics, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and corticosteroids.
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Are There Any Prescribed Medications for Psoriasis That May Now Be Unsafe to Take Due to COVID-19?
â€œIn that study the drug arm of the trial had a slightly higher infection rate than the placebo arm for nonserious infections. So we know that methotrexate can increase the risk of infections from that data, but it wasnâ€™t a significant medical problem in an at-risk patient population,â€ says Gelfand. Given that it was a large trial that included thousands of people and went on for three or four years, that data should be somewhat reassuring, he adds.
â€œIn analyzing the clinical trials that were used to grant [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] FDA approval of the medications, there was a higher rate of respiratory infections with these drugs compared with placebo â€” about 40 percent higher,â€ says Gelfand.
â€œPre-COVID-19, no one was really concerned about this because respiratory infections are usually mild and donâ€™t need any treatment because they just go away. But in COVID-19, a respiratory tract infection could kill you or kill someone you give it to. That small risk difference could now be important and should be considered in making decisions about drug therapy,â€ he says.
The bottom line is when it comes to different therapies for psoriasis, no one knows for certain what the risks are with COVID-19, says Gelfand. â€œThatâ€™s why we have to do the trials. Sometimes we have theories based on our best scientific knowledge and when those theories are tested in humans we find the opposite,â€ he says.
What Resources Are Available if You Can No Longer Afford Your Medications?
If your insurance or job status has changed and youâ€™re concerned about paying for psoriasis medication, you need to let your doctor know whatâ€™s going on, says Gelfand. â€œI really need to know if a person is having issues related to access or if the expense is prohibiting them from following the treatment plan that I want to give them,â€ he says.
â€œUnfortunately, doctors are unable to predict what the cost to the patient will be because itâ€™s so variable from insurance company to insurance company,â€ he says. The good news is that often there are small tweaks to your therapy that could save you thousands of dollars on your psoriasis medication, says Gelfand. â€œIn most cases we might be able to find something similar that would probably work just as well,â€ he says.
A website called GoodRx, which lets you compare drug prices and find psoriasis coupons, can be very helpful for some patients, says Gelfand. â€œPeople can learn how and where to find their prescription medication for the lowest price,â€ he says.
You can also visit an individual drug companyâ€™s website; many have psoriasis assistance programs that can help defray costs or even get you psoriasis medication for free, he adds.
What Can Someone With Psoriasis Take to Safely Boost Their Immune System?
There really isnâ€™t any sort of vitamin or supplement that a person with psoriasis can take to protect themselves from COVID-19, says Gelfand. â€œMaintaining good overall health is the most important thing. The best people can do, including people with psoriasis, is to eat healthy, exercise regularly, try to maintain a healthy body weight, and not drink to excess,â€ he says.
Experts continue to debate whether vitamin D offers any protection against COVID-19, following the release of a study in the Irish Medical Journal on May 12 suggesting that vitamin D deficiency may lead to increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or having a more severe case.
Managing Psoriasis, Mental Health, COVID-19 Concerns, and You
Depression is more common in people with psoriasis than it is in the general population, notes Gelfand. â€œItâ€™s important for people to know that mental health is just as important as physical health. People with anxiety and depression suffer significantly,â€ he says. Make sure that youâ€™re checking in with a loved one regularly and talk to your doctor about how youâ€™re feeling, he adds.
Can Anxiety Around the Coronavirus Make Psoriasis Worse?
For most of us, the novelty of the lifestyle changes required by the pandemic is beginning to wear off, says Gelfand. â€œWeâ€™re probably entering the more difficult phase of all this and for a lot of people stress levels may start to rise and mood problems may begin to present.â€
â€œMany people notice that stress makes psoriasis worse; thereâ€™s been a lot of data on this over the years,â€ says Gelfand. â€œWhen people go through a divorce or have another traumatic event in their life, that can often trigger their first bout of psoriasis.â€
Attention to diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep, along with stress- relieving approaches like mindfulness meditation can help improve stress and psoriasis for some people.
He adds, â€œThere are situations in which professional help or medications are necessary; talk with your doctor about your mental and emotional health, and make sure to ask for help when you need it.â€
Managing Psoriasis-Related Doctorâ€™s Appointments
Itâ€™s very important to continue to manage your psoriasis and talk with your doctor about your therapies during the pandemic, according to Gelfand. You should continue to check in with doctor, even if itâ€™s not in the same way you would before COVID-19, he adds.
Should You Continue to Go to Regularly Scheduled Doctorâ€™s Appointments?
Whether you should venture outside to an in-person appointment is largely dependent on the prevalence of the coronavirus your community, according to Gelfand. â€œCheck in with resources like your local health department and your doctor. Ask your doctor if you can do a virtual appointment or if a physical appointment is necessary,â€ he says.
Are There Any Extra Precautions to Take for In-Person Appointments?
If youâ€™re going in for an in-person appointment there are a few precautions you should take, says Gelfand.
- Wear a face covering.
- Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when needed.
- Try to avoid public transportation.
- Ask your doctor if you can wait in your car and have them call or text you when itâ€™s time to come in so that you can avoid the waiting room.
- Try to maintain social distancing whenever possible.
What Types of Appointments Should You Do Virtually vs. In-Office?
Although patients already diagnosed with psoriasis can manage their condition remotely, a physical examination would usually be required for an initial diagnosis in determining the proper course of treatment, says Gelfand.
â€œThe people who need to come into the office with psoriasis are those for whom a diagnosis is not well-established and were not able to make one through pictures or a video assessment,â€ he says.
Those patients may need a physical examination to help decide on the course of therapies. â€œIf Iâ€™m trying to understand if a personâ€™s joint pain is psoriatic arthritis, I often need to do that in person; I need to feel the small joints of the hand, for example,â€ says Gelfand.
What to Expect at a Telehealth Psoriasis Appointment and How to Get Prepared
â€œThe value of a virtual psoriasis appointment is in large part dependent on the patient,â€ says Gelfand. â€œItâ€™s really important to take this seriously â€” as seriously as if you were going to see me in the office.â€ Even though we live in an age where everyone is trying to continually multitask, when you have a telemedicine appointment you need to give it your full attention, he adds.
â€œIâ€™ve had patients out on walks with their dogs or listening to a webinar at work during our appointment,â€ he says. â€œThis is serious business. Weâ€™re discussing the use of drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars.â€ He adds, â€œThere is important information conveyed during a doctorâ€™s appointment, and the last thing you want to happen afterward is to wonder â€˜What did he or she say again?' Or, â€˜Why did I forget to ask this?â€™â€
Gelfand offers a few tips for getting the most out of your telemedicine appointment.
- Take a few minutes before your appointment time to make sure you are familiar with the conferencing platform if itâ€™s a video appointment.
- Set yourself up in a private, well-lit room wearing clothes that are easy to take on and off in case thereâ€™s a need for the doctor to look at something on your skin during the video chat.
- Prepare your list of questions in advance and make sure itâ€™s available.
Expert Tips for Living With Psoriasis During the Coronavirus Pandemic
As what experts know about the pandemic changes, you need to know where to get reliable and relevant advice, says Gelfand.
â€œThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a good source for up- to-date information; go there on a regular basis. Your local department of health website is another good resource because that is often going to determine whatâ€™s the right thing to do for an individual,â€ he says.
Additional recommendations from Gelfand for living with psoriasis in the age of COVID-19 include:
- Practice CDC recommendations on hand-washing and social distancing.
- Stay in touch with your doctor and contact them immediately if your health status changes.
- Consult your doctor before you change or stop any of your medication.
- Keep your stress level to a minimum.
- Practice a healthy lifestyle around diet, exercise, and sleep.
Trusted Resources We Love to Help Those With Psoriasis in COVID-19 Times
The National Psoriasis Foundation is a nonprofit offering recommendations and information about living with psoriasis during the pandemic, including how to get help with the cost of treatments and medication.
The International Psoriasis Council is a group of dermatology-led nonprofits made up of psoriasis experts, professionals, and thought leaders. The website contains a COVID-19 psoriasis resource center.
CreakyJoints.org is a digital community for people with arthritis and offers resources for people with psoriasis.
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