How Seasonal Changes Can Affect Your Psoriasis

The days are getting shorter, and before you know it, there is a chill in the air. After summer’s heat, many people are ready for the fall and winter. But if you’re one of the 7.5 million Americans who have psoriasis, a change in seasons can bring a worsening of symptoms.

Why Seasonal Transitions Are Hard

Some of the seasonal shifts in psoriasis severity have to do with exposure to sunlight, which can have a positive effect on the condition. As Whitney A. High, MD, associate professor and director of dermatopathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, points out, people usually get more sun on their skin in the warmer months, when they’re likely to wear shorts and T- shirts.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), many people see improvement in their psoriasis in the summer due to the greater availability of natural ultraviolet (UV) light. In the fall and winter, the combination of dry air and colder temperatures with fewer hours of sunlight can worsen symptoms. Making things worse, cold-weather clothes can be itchy and irritate already sensitive skin.

Dr. Neimann says some psoriasis patients who undergo light therapy will stop treatment during the sunnier summer months. When they resume therapy in the fall, they have to start over by building up to the prescribed dose of light. According to the NPF, psoriasis symptoms can worsen temporarily under light therapy before improving. This is because the initial treatments are often shortened to prime the rest of the skin cells and prevent a burn. One of the keys to successful phototherapy is consistency.

Stress, which can trigger psoriasis symptoms, is not necessarily seasonal, says Neimann, but the shift to colder, darker days can affect your mood. “Stress can worsen [this time of year],” agrees Dr. High. “It can make psoriasis more unbearable.”

Some people try to manage stress by drinking. “Psoriasis can drive people to drink because they are so burdened by their disease,” High says. Alcohol consumption also tends to increase around the holidays.

Alcohol can have a variety of effects on psoriasis, including triggering symptom flare-ups, drying out the skin, and slowing the effectiveness of certain drugs.

Of course, not everyone feels the same way about the transition from summer to fall. High says some patients find that keeping their skin covered during the colder months causes less stress. “These people are more stressed about their appearance,” High says. “For them, the summer can be worse.”

The transition to winter also ushers in the season of colds and the flu. Strep infections and other illnesses can further weaken an immune system that may already be compromised because of certain psoriasis drugs.

6 Tips for Easing the Transition

You can’t control the calendar, but there are steps you can take to minimize the effect that seasonal changes have on psoriasis.

Stay the course. It’s easy to stop treatment in the summer when psoriasis symptoms may improve. But sticking with a treatment that works, even if your symptoms seem better, can help smooth the transition between seasons.

Take a bath. “Soaking helps to loosen skin,” says Heather Wickless, MD, associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Wickless recommends bathing with a coal tar solution. “It’s an oldie, but goodie,” she says. Coal tar slows the rapid growth of skin cells and can help reduce inflammation, itchy skin, and scaling from psoriasis. Over- the-counter coal tar products with concentrations between 0.5 and 5 percent are safe and effective for psoriasis, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Use moisturizers and a humidifier. Psoriasis can make your skin itchy, and having dry skin can only exacerbate things. If you have psoriasis, use liberal amounts of moisturizers to counter the effects of dry air. “Moisture is critical,” says Wickless. A humidifier in your home can help offset seasonal dryness.

Apply medication when your skin is hydrated. Topical treatments are absorbed more easily when your skin is moist, says Wickless. Apply them after taking a bath or shower.

Keep healthy. The NPF encourages psoriasis patients to get plenty of rest, wash their hands frequently, and minimize stress to help prevent getting sick. Try to eliminate sugary foods and increase your intake of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, says Wickless. If you’re overweight, losing even 10 percent of your body weight can improve your symptoms. When it comes to alcohol, drink in moderation, if at all.

Take a vacation. Packing your bags in the dead of winter may not always be practical. But if you can take a break from the wintry weather and head to a warm, sunny place, it might relieve your psoriasis symptoms. Just be sure to pack plenty of sunblock and a hat for those unaffected parts of your body.

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