Psoriasis in Fall and Winter: 7 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

For some people with psoriasis, fall and winter bring shorter days, colder temperatures, and worsening psoriasis symptoms.

Don’t despair. You don’t need to tough it out until spring, counting the days until you get some relief from psoriasis.

Here are answers to seven frequently asked questions about psoriasis in fall and winter.

Why do my psoriasis signs and symptoms get worse in the fall and winter?

Dry air and low levels of exposure to sunlight’s ultraviolet rays likely cause worsening psoriasis symptoms during fall and winter.

Not only are the winter days shorter, but most people tend to spend less time outside. And, when they do brave the elements, they’re usually bundled up from head to toe. UVB rays are most prevalent at noontime in the spring and summer. 

All of these things add up to much less ultraviolet light from the sun, which may ease psoriasis in spring and summer.

Experts believe that ultraviolet light hinders the rapid growth of skin cells that is characteristic of psoriasis. So you may find that your psoriasis is more likely to flare and your plaques worsen when you spend less time in the sun.

Also, the lack of humidity in the air outside and the dry heat in most buildings during the colder months can rob your skin of the moisture it needs. You may be able to alleviate dryness-related psoriasis symptoms by regularly moisturizing your skin and using a humidifier at home. If possible, humidify your office, too.

How can I safely get the ultraviolet light my skin needs?

Definitely don’t go running off to the tanning booth -- there are safer ways to get your psoriasis-easing ultraviolet rays.

The medical use of light rays to treat psoriasis is known as phototherapy. A variety of options exist, which can be done in a doctor’s office, psoriasis clinic, or even the comfort of your home.

The form of light known as ultraviolet light B (UVB) seems to be the most beneficial for treating psoriasis. Your doctor may prescribe a certain amount of UVB exposure depending on your symptoms. If your doctor does choose this form of light therapy for your psoriasis, ask whether you should consider purchasing a home UVB unit.

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Other phototherapy options for psoriasis treatment include the use of ultraviolet light A (UVA) in conjunction with special medications that respond to these light rays. This is rarely used, however, because it can cause skin cancer.

Looking for a reason to take a getaway to some tropical locale? It could be just what the doctor ordered to ease your psoriasis symptoms. The beneficial effects of a sunny vacation in the middle of winter could help ease psoriasis symptoms for a few months.

I tend to eat more and drink more alcohol in the fall and winter months. Will this affect my psoriasis?

Alcohol and key foods probably will not trigger a psoriasis flare. Though medical researchers have yet to prove that certain foods cause psoriasis flares, many patients report that eating certain foods seems to worsen their psoriasis. This, though, may be a coincidence. If you notice a regular connection between eating certain foods and increased skin symptoms, ask your doctor whether you can safely eliminate the suspect foods from your diet to assess any changes in your psoriasis.

Alcohol binges are associated with worsening psoriasis. If you tend to smoke when you drink, you might be dealing yourself a double whammy. Evidence indicates that people who smoke tobacco products may be more likely to develop a form of psoriasis that causes pustules to develop on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Researchers have also found a correlation between smoking and more serious forms of psoriasis.

Could strep throat and other winter illnesses affect my psoriasis?

If you suffer from psoriasis, an infection by bacteria and viruses can cause symptoms to flare. A strep infection, specifically, is a known trigger for guttate psoriasis, a form of the disease that causes red, droplet-shaped lesions to develop on the abdomen, back, arms, and legs.

Although researchers don’t know the exact cause of psoriasis, the immune system seems to play a key role in its development. Germs, illness, viruses or bacteria -- anything that temporarily revs up your immune system -- may cause your symptoms to worsen. Even something as simple as a common cold or respiratory virus may trigger a psoriasis flare. Strive to keep yourself healthy by eating a balanced diet, getting regular physical activity, getting enough rest and keeping stress levels under control.

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Can I get a flu shot if I have psoriasis?

Since getting the flu may temporarily alter your immune system and could worsen your psoriasis, you’re wise to think about getting immunized against the flu.

There should be no problem getting a flu shot during an active psoriasis flare -- just make sure the flu vaccine you receive does not contain any live virus. Due to a risk of complication from some vaccinations for people with psoriasis, always check with a health care provider before getting your flu vaccine.

What types of clothing are best for people with psoriasis in cold weather?

Wool sweaters are synonymous with winter for some people with psoriasis, but the itchiness of the fabric may make your already irritated skin feel worse.

Consider dressing in layers made from natural plant fibers, such as cotton, to keep you warm and comfortable. If you suffer from scalp psoriasis and find that flaking is a problem, choose lighter-colored clothes to hide dandruff.

Why does it seem like my psoriasis gets worse around the holidays?

Stress is a known psoriasis trigger, and some people find the holidays very stressful.

Try to counter the stress with relaxation techniques to keep yourself calm. You might try yoga, meditation, biofeedback, or even a long walk.

Holidays are also a time of heavy drinking, which could possibly worsen psoriasis symptoms. And then, of course, there are the many social gatherings indoors with people who may have colds or other viruses, which could worsen your lesions if you get sick.

To make your holiday season an enjoyable one, make every attempt to enjoy the time spent with family and friends and follow as healthy a lifestyle as possible. It’s the best present you can give to yourself.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on November 28, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: "PsoriasisNet."

National Psoriasis Foundation.

Mark Lebwohl, MD, professor and chairman of dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University.

Melissa Magliocco, MD, assistant professor of medicine and acting chief, division of clinical pharmacology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

WebMD Medical Reference: “7 Psoriasis Triggers.”

WebMD Medical News: “Smoking May Make Psoriasis Worse.”

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