At the end of the year, the weather begins to cool off. Rain and snowfall increase. The air is dry, and for some, skin becomes dry, itchy, and irritated. For those with psoriasis, the cold weather may mean serious flare-ups, pain, and struggles to manage their condition. According to Dr. Bobbak (Bobby) Mansouri of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Tyler, Texas, “Many psoriasis patients flare during colder weather seasons. During the fall or winter is a good time to meet with your dermatologist and put a plan in place to manage your condition and prevent the most serious symptoms before they start.” Learn more about what to expect from psoriasis symptoms during cold weather and explore Dr. Mansouri’s top four tips for managing psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis this winter.
Psoriasis is a condition with a constellation of symptoms and findings. It’s a condition that causes the immune system to function irregularly. Each person who struggles with psoriasis needs to partner with a dermatologist to understand and manage their condition. Psoriasis varies from person to person, but in most cases, patients experience some combination of the following symptoms:
- Overdevelopment of skin cells (thickened areas of skin often called plaques)
- Inflammation of the skin and joints
- Irritated or sensitive skin
- Itching, burning, stinging, or otherwise painful sensation in the affected areas
- Joint pain, for those with psoriatic arthritis – seen in about one-third of psoriasis patients
Why do Psoriasis Symptoms Get Worse During the Fall & Winter?
According to Dr. Mansouri, “There are a number of reasons why psoriasis likely flares during colder months. First, like other people who experience dry, irritated skin in the winter months, cold weather strips moisture from psoriasis patients’ skin, making their symptoms more pronounced. Second, natural sunlight helps skin affected with psoriasis, so many patients have more control of their skin during the summer months due to more sunlight and warmer weather. Third, other illnesses are more prevalent during colder months, such as colds and the flu. Patients with psoriasis generally flare when they get sick, so many people flare for this reason. Last, many patients will have psoriasis flares with any life stress. When taking into consideration the potential stress of the holiday season, it sets many patients up for potential flares of their skin and joints.”
How do I Manage Psoriasis During Cold Weather Months?
The best way to combat psoriasis symptoms in the winter months is to get a head start. By increasing your symptom management plan in the late summer and fall, you’ll set your skin up for a healthier winter. Review the four top tips below to learn how you can prepare for your skin to handle winter weather.
1 – Visit a Dermatologist to Update Your Treatment Plan
Dr. Mansouri says, “If you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis, you should schedule at least one annual exam to check in with your dermatologist. For patients with moderate to severe psoriasis, you should be seen at least every 6 months. The fall and early winter months may be a good time to set up your appointment. During this checkup, your dermatologist can review your current maintenance routine and plan for the most serious effects of cold weather, including if you get sick during the winter months, your psoriasis flares, or you have to hold your systemic treatment for some reason.”
2 – Moisturize Your Skin
After a lack of sunlight, a lack of moisture is the second most damaging cold weather condition for psoriasis patients. From the cold, dry air and harsh elements outside to the moisture zapping heaters inside, winter weather can be tough on the skin. This dryness leads to increased inflammation and itching. In addition to discomfort, dry skin can increase the risk of infection for psoriasis sufferers since the already dry skin can crack or break when scratched, leading to open sores. During the winter months, individuals with psoriasis should take the following steps to keep skin hydrated:
- Use moisturizing soaps and body washes when washing hands and bathing.
- Use warm or lukewarm water when washing hands and bathing. Hot water can strip moisture from the skin.
- Take a soothing colloidal oatmeal soak in warm water for about fifteen minutes to help relieve itch, reduce stress, and restore moisture to dry skin. You may also want to use Epsom salts, bathing oils, and other moisturizing products as part of your bath. A warm bath can also help to soothe muscles and ease joint pain for those with psoriatic arthritis.
- After washing hands or showering, apply a thick, cream-based moisturizing lotion.
- Use hypoallergenic cosmetics and hygiene products without fragrance (look for products marked as fragrance-free rather than unscented).
- Set up a humidifier in your home and/or office to increase humidity and prevent the drying effects of running the heater.
3 – Avoid Triggering Foods & Drinks
In addition to cooler weather and less sunshine, the winter months also mean more holidays. The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy and spending time with family, but it may also mean consuming foods and beverages that trigger psoriasis flare-ups. While the research is unclear about whether or not foods and drinks directly cause psoriasis symptoms, if you notice consuming specific items repeatedly coincides with a flare-up, you may want to skip that food or drink. While flare-ups related to specific foods will vary from person to person, many indulgent holiday favorites are common triggers. Specifically, drinking alcohol, consuming sugary and high-fat foods, and generally overeating may all contribute to psoriasis flare-ups.
4 – Warm Up Without Irritation
The way people with psoriasis warm up may also lead to flare-ups. From using chemical hand and foot warmers to wearing heavy, itchy fabrics that irritate psoriasis-prone skin, staying warm in the cold weather may lead to a psoriasis flare-up. To warm up without irritating skin consider the following:
- Trade chemical-based hand and foot warmers for thermal gloves and socks.
- Drink hot beverages and eat warm soups, stews, and chilis. This will heat you up from the inside out and keep you feeling warmer.
- Wear soft, light layers rather than thick, heavy, rough fabrics to keep warm.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Psoriasis & Cold Weather
Your dermatologist will be happy to answer your questions about the specifics of psoriasis symptom management at any time of the year, but many people have similar questions about psoriasis during cold weather months. You can find the answers to some of our patients’ frequently asked questions below.
Will a Flu Shot Cause Psoriasis Flare-ups?
Dr. Mansouri says, “Everyone is different, and flu shots are different from year to year. However, getting your annual flu shot should not lead to a psoriasis flare-up, and even during an active psoriasis flare-up, a flu shot shouldn’t have any negative effects. In fact, receiving a flu shot can help reduce your risk for a serious flare-up since the flu weakens the immune system, leading to an increase in symptoms.”
Do Fall & Winter Illnesses (Like Strep Throat) Make Psoriasis Flare-ups Worse?
According to Dr. Mansouri, “Yes. Bacterial and viral infections that are common in the fall and winter, like strep throat and flu, trigger stress to the immune system. As such, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis will commonly flare when patients get any sort of illness and systemic stress.”
Why Does Psoriasis Get Worse at the Holidays?
Dr. Mansouri says, “Holidays are supposed to be times for fun and relaxation, but for most adults, that translates into a lot of stress, lack of sleep, overeating and drinking, and just generally not following our regular routines. All these changes create a perfect storm, leading to flares in psoriasis symptoms. Making time to maintain your regular skincare routine, finding ways to relieve stress, and generally, making healthier choices can be extremely beneficial to reduce psoriasis symptoms.”
Visit the U.S. Dermatology Partners
If you’re ready to partner with a board-certified dermatologist to create an action plan for managing psoriasis symptoms this fall and winter, U.S. Dermatology Partners would love to hear from you. To schedule an appointment, simply take a few moments to complete our online request form. Once we hear from you, a team member will be in touch to finalize your appointment details.
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