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How the Seasons Affect Your Psoriasis

Weather changes influence your immune system and psoriasis symptoms more than you might realize.

By Kathleen Hall

Medically Reviewed by Ross Radusky, MD

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Every season brings its own challenges and benefits for people with psoriasis.
Every season brings its own challenges and benefits for people with psoriasis.

As many as 70 percent of psoriasis patients experience a worsening of symptoms from late fall into the winter, according to Susan Katz, MD, clinical assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “There is a decrease in humidity and dropping temperatures, which dries the skin. There is also less UV light available.”

“Winter is worse because there is not as much sun,” agrees Jessica Kaffenberger, MD, a dermatologist and director of medical student education at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Sunlight dramatically improves psoriasis.”

There is a scientific explanation for the connection between the weather and psoriasis symptoms. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, certain genes are turned on at different times of the year, depending on where you live. In other words, your immune system produces proteins that can launch an inflammatory attack against something that may be harmful.

People who live in Northern Europe, for example, have an active immune system in the winter. In contrast, if you live in West Africa, your immune system kicks in during the rainy season (the summer months), when infectious diseases such as malaria are the highest. It appears your immune system knows where you live and when your seasons occur. Of course, you want your immune system to help keep you healthy in the face of flu or malaria. But if you have an inflammatory disease such as psoriasis, an active immune system can also trigger symptoms.

Coping With Cold Weather Months

Exposure to ultraviolet light B (UVB), found in natural sunlight, is so important in easing psoriasis symptoms that many patients undergo prescription light therapy during the winter months. Dr. Kaffenberger says about three days of medically supervised light therapy each week at a doctor’s office or psoriasis clinic can dramatically improve symptoms.

That said, there is a small portion of patients for whom psoriasis does not improve with UV exposure. Kaffenberger says doctors are not yet sure why this is.

It’s important to point out that the light boxes used to treat psoriasis are different from tanning beds. Dermatologists do not advocate tanning beds (which significantly raise your risk for skin cancer) for psoriasis patients — or anyone else for that matter.

Dr. Katz recommends liberally moisturizing your skin in the winter with an unscented moisturizer, preferably one that does not have many preservatives. A home humidifier can also help prevent dry winter skin.

You’ll also want to take steps to keep yourself healthy and avoid infections, the flu, or anything that might trigger your immune system. Wash your hands frequently, eat a healthy diet, and get plenty of sleep. Ask your doctor whether a flu shot is right for you, and find effective ways to manage your stress, as it is also a significant trigger of psoriasis symptoms.

Staying healthy is especially important for children with psoriasis. Katz says there is a strong correlation between strep infections and a type of psoriasis called guttate psoriasis. If your child has psoriasis, seek prompt medical attention if they develop strep throat.

Know How to Enjoy Warm Weather Months

Most psoriasis patients see an improvement in symptoms in the warmer months. There is more natural sunlight, and with the warmer weather, people expose more skin to the sun. This does not mean you should spend an excessive amount of time in the sun; overexposure to UV light can also trigger symptoms, and it puts you at risk for skin cancer.

Sun protection is just as important for psoriasis patients as it is for everyone else. The key is to get sun exposure in an intelligent way, says Mark Lebwohl, MD, Sol and Clara Kest Professor of dermatology and Chair of the Kimberly and Eric J. Waldman Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.

“You don’t want to burn,” he explains. “Start with five minutes of unprotected exposure the first day, and then put on sunscreen. Do 10 minutes the next day, and then apply sunscreen. Every day, add a little more exposure. This way you minimize damage while optimizing the therapy.”

Feel free to go into the pool or hot tub as long as you don’t have any open or oozing sores. For some people, the pool or hot tub water can help soften the skin and clear crusty, hard areas. Don’t overindulge, however. Chlorine and very warm water can irritate or dry skin. Limit your soaks and shower soon after to rinse off the chlorine before applying a moisturizer.

Regardless of the season, stay the course with your treatment program and limit your exposure to things you know trigger symptoms. Seek help from your doctor if you are experiencing flares.

Video: Number of psoriasis patients increase during fall

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Date: 10.01.2019, 12:55 / Views: 63164