As the hot, humid days of summer give way to cool autumn breezes, most folks breathe a sigh of relief. But this may not be the case if you suffer from psoriasis -- a chronic condition affecting the skin and joints of upwards of 4.5 million adults, as well as many children.
Indeed, as fall ushers in colder, drier air, psoriasis can worsen -- sometimes inviting more of the dry, scaly, itchy red patches associated with this condition to develop.
Anne Jeffres, 41, an acupuncturist in New York, was in the midst of a stressful time at work when she noticed her scalp flaking. Her fingers became sore. Her nails were brittle and pitted. The mild psoriasis she once had as a child had returned in full force. "The flare-up was bad enough that I lost patches of hair on my head," Jeffres says.
"Psoriasis is a lifelong disease" that's mainly passed down in families, says Erin Boh, MD, PhD. She's a professor and chair of the dermatology department at...
"The lack of humidity in the air allows the skin to retain moisture less well, and when that occurs, tiny cracks or fissures can develop on the surface of the skin," says Bruce Strober, MD, director of the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Center at NYU Medical Center in New York City.
Psoriasis most commonly appears on the scalp, knees, elbows, and torso but can develop more readily in areas where skin is traumatized or "broken." Strober says anything that causes that to happen -- like cool, dry air -- can also exacerbate the disease.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, this irritating skin condition comes in several different forms with varying levels of severity. In nearly all cases, however, it begins when the normal system of cell turnover goes awry.
"Normally the top layer of skin makes itself over every 28 to 30 days -- the old cells are microscopically shed, while the new ones take their place," says Mark Lebwohl, MD, PhD, chairman of the department of dermatology at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. In psoriasis, however, Lebwohl says that this natural process is sped up dramatically.
"In psoriasis, cells turn over as quickly as every two to three days," says Lebwohl.
The old cells don't shed off normally and new cells multiply so quickly they stick together and form lesions called patches or plaques. In the most common form of this condition, the end result can be dry, scaly, red, and sometimes itchy patches of skin. And the drier your skin gets, the worse the patches can look -- and feel.