an eggplant grenade

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones (But Triggers Will Probably Always Hurt Me)

Like many autoimmune diseases, hidradenitis suppurativa flares can be set off by certain things. I’m going to refer to these things as “triggers” since they trigger the development of a flare-up. These triggers can be things you physically ingest or emotional factors like stress, anxiety, and depression. Throughout this article, I’ll discuss potential HS triggers, how you can figure out your triggers, my own triggers, and how I try and avoid mine (try is the keyword). Please also remember that HS is a lot of trial and error and what works for one person may not work for the next. It’s important to listen to what your body is personally trying to convey to you and always check with your medical professional.

Potential hidradenitis suppurativa triggers

I was going to write out a long witty paragraph discussing common triggers, but this is the internet! People want straight up facts ASAP. Case in point, how annoying is it to have to scroll 96 minutes (I’m not being dramatic or anything) through a recipe just to find out the ingredients and measurements because Cindy Lou is reminiscing about when she used to make this pumpkin bread recipe with her nana in the good old days before we all had to wear face masks and be sad? HELLA ANNOYING.

So here’s a list of common HS triggers:

  • Alcohol
  • Eggplant
  • Gluten
  • Processed sugars
  • Cigarettes
  • Peppers
  • Processed fats
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Tomatoes
  • Dairy
  • Red meat
  • White Potatoes
  • Red spices (cayenne pepper, chili pepper, red pepper, and paprika)
  • Jalapeno, banana, and habanero peppers
  • Stress

Figuring out your triggers

Trying to figure out triggers is not a fun or easy process and it takes some time and effort. The key is to eliminate all potential triggers from your life and then slowly re-introduce each one back in! That is so much easier said than done, especially when things like stress, anxiety, and depression are on the naughty list. Who can honestly control those? Not to mention the long list of foods surrounding most people daily which have to be eliminated.

I recommend starting flare-free or with minimal outbreaks (also I realize easier said than done). This way it’ll be easier to see a change in flare occurrences.

Eliminate ALL potential trigger foods/objects from your life for at least a month. Then each week, pick ONE potential trigger to reintroduce back in your life. If by the end of the week you’re still flare-free, you’ll know that’s not something causing you HS issues.

It’s a long and tedious process, but it really can help you realize what might be giving you outbreaks.

My triggers and how I try to avoid them

So, my biggest triggers are gluten, processed sugar, anxiety, stress, and depression. I also have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, so I get pretty bad flares before and during my period due to the hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS. My endocrinologist truly believes that the PCOS is what brought on my HS, so there isn’t too much I can do to stop my hormonal flares besides taking birth control, Metformin, and Spironolactone. However, I do try and control my other flares by staying away from gluten and processed sugar. This can be so hard. ALL of my favorite foods involve one or the other and sometimes it’s so hard to walk away from a bowl of pasta as I watch my entire family eating it. I try and remind myself of the pain that that bowl of pasta can cause, and sometimes that will help keep me away from it. Other times, I truly cave and won’t be satisfied unless I have it! You really have to pick your battles and decide if you think it’ll be worth it in the end. Remember: “Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones (but Triggers Will Probably Always Hurt me).”

Since my food triggers are gluten and processed sugar, I’ve found a lot of success with the Keto diet. Like I mentioned above though, HS is a lot of trial and error since everybody is different. Doing the Keto diet personally, I eat a lot of red meat, processed fats, dairy, tomatoes, and peppers, so this diet might not work for other HS patients. I personally believe elimination and reintroduction is the best way to find out what your triggers are so you can try to keep your flares away!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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