Medical News Today: How can psoriasis affect the lungs?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes widespread inflammation. This can affect the skin and several other parts of the body, including the lungs.

The most noticeable symptoms of psoriasis are patches of red, inflamed skin and silvery-white scaly rashes.

However, the condition puts a person at risk for many complications, including lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.

This article focuses on the effects of psoriasis on the lungs and the symptoms to watch for.

How can psoriasis affect the lungs?

Woman struggling to breathe
People with psoriasis may have a greater risk of developing COPD.

Psoriasis is a disorder of the immune system. It causes white blood cells to become overactive and produce chemicals that trigger inflammation in the skin. This inflammation can also affect other parts of the body, including the lungs.

Researchers believe that psoriasis is related to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to metabolic syndrome, which is associated with:

These factors can put a person at risk for chronic diseases, including those that affect the lungs.

It is also possible that psoriasis medications that suppress the immune system can increase the risk of developing lung disease.


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Complications

Research has linked psoriasis with the following pulmonary diseases:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD refers to a group of diseases that impair the flow of air to the lungs, making it more difficult to breathe.

A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis looked at the link between psoriasis and COPD. The researchers concluded that people with psoriasis had a greater risk of developing COPD, compared to the general population. The risk was higher in people with severe psoriasis.

Pulmonary sarcoidosis

Like psoriasis, sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects the lung and other organs. Sarcoidosis causes abnormal masses of inflamed tissue, called granulomas, to form in the organs.

Research has discovered a link between psoriasis and sarcoidosis.

In a large study that followed participants for over 10 years, the researchers found that people with psoriasis were more likely to develop sarcoidosis than the reference population. The likelihood of developing sarcoidosis was higher in people with severe psoriasis.

Interstitial lung disease

Interstitial lung disease describes a group of disorders, including pulmonary fibrosis and asbestosis, which cause progressive and permanent scarring of lung tissue.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that people with psoriasis may have an increased risk of developing an interstitial lung disease, most commonly idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

The authors noted that the link did not seem to stem from the use of medications that suppress the immune system.

Symptoms and warning signs of pulmonary illness

woman with hands on heart
Chest pain can be an early warning of pulmonary illness.

Each lung condition has its own characteristics and treatments.

However, many share some symptoms.

Being aware of the symptoms of pulmonary disease can help a person know when to talk to a doctor. Receiving treatment when a disease is at an early stage can improve a person’s outlook.

The following can be early warning symptoms of pulmonary illness:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. This can be one of the first signs of pulmonary disease, and people should not overlook it.
  • Chest pain. If pain occurs when a person takes a deep breath or coughs, they should contact a doctor for an examination.
  • A cough. When a cough lasts for longer than 8 weeks, the medical community considers it chronic, and a doctor can usually find the cause. Always discuss a chronic cough with a doctor, especially if the cough is bringing up blood.
  • Wheezing. Wheezing is a sign of narrowed airways. This makes it difficult for air to move through the respiratory system.
  • Chronic mucus production. The respiratory system produces mucus, also called sputum or phlegm, to defend the body against irritants. Speak to a doctor if excessive mucus lasts for 1 month or longer.


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Risk factors

Several factors increase the risk of developing a pulmonary disease. Some are modifiable, meaning that a person can make changes to decrease their chances of developing a disease.

If a person has a condition that puts them at risk of lung disease, it is especially important that they make these changes.

Smoking

Smoking increases a person’s risk of developing a number of lung diseases, including COPD, pneumonia, and lung cancer.

People with psoriasis who smoke are likely to have more severe symptoms.

Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke will greatly decrease a person’s risk.

Exposure to irritants

A person’s job or home environment can expose them to harmful substances.

Lung irritants can include:

  • dust
  • asbestos
  • animal droppings
  • chemicals
  • radiation
  • smoke

Anyone frequently exposed to irritants may want to consider wearing a filtration mask. Long-term exposure can increase a person’s risk of developing lung disease.

Genetics

If a family member has a particular lung disease, a person may have an increased risk.

Discuss a family history of lung disease with a doctor, who can advise about risk factors.

Age

Certain pulmonary diseases, especially COPD, are more likely to develop as a person gets older.

Certain medications

Some medications may increase the risk of lung damage, including:

  • immunosuppressive drugs, which are often used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases
  • some heart medications
  • certain antibiotics

To manage risk, be sure to discuss options thoroughly with a doctor.

Outlook

Anyone with psoriasis may be at risk for systemic complications, including lung disease. This is because the chronic, inflammatory effects of psoriasis can extend to internal organs.

It can help to follow a psoriasis treatment plan closely and discuss risk factors with a doctor. A person may also be able to make changes to lower their risk, such as quitting smoking.

Not everybody with psoriasis will develop a lung complication, but because of the increased risk, it may be a good idea to take preventive measures.

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