Why does my psoriasis seem to get worse in winter

Fall and winter bring shorter days. Shorter days mean less sunlight and Vitamin D. At the same time, colder temperatures mean more clothing layers covering your skin. When combined, these factors might bring the worsening of psoriasis symptoms.

In this period of year, we naturally tend to spend more time in closed spaces and due to the heating, the air in these spaces sometimes gets really dry. On the other side, dry wither air in Europe is not exactly favourable for psoriasis either. In fact, the lack of humidity in the air outside and the dry heat in most buildings during fall and winter can have the same undesired effect on your skin- depriving it of the moisture it needs. If you take this into account and combine it with the fact that your body is in this period usually covered from head to toe and not getting enough ultraviolet light, it becomes understandable why your skin is more likely to flare and your plaques worsen in winter.

Keeping skin soft and moist can minimize itching and tenderness. Over-the-counter moisturizers such as petroleum jelly or thick creams may be recommended. These should be applied immediately after bathing or showering.

The dryness-related psoriasis symptoms could also be relieved with the help of air humidifier in the space where you spend the most of your day, be it an office or your home. However, safely getting the ultraviolet light your skin needs might not be that easy. The UV tanning is definitely not an option for various reasons, among which the risk of getting melanoma takes the highest place.

In the attempt to compensate the sunlight, your doctor might recommend medical use of light rays to treat psoriasis. This is known as phototherapy[i]. This therapy comes in a variety of options, and can be done in a doctor’s office, psoriasis clinic, or even in your home.

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

Holiday season and psoriasis

Winter is also time for holidays. Some people get psoriatic flares around holidays but, contrary to some beliefs, the key triggers[ii] for symptoms are not food and alcohol. The experts have established that the main reason behind  worsening of symptoms for winter holidays lays in stress. It is known that stress is a psoriasis trigger, and there are people who find the holidays very stressful. In addition to that, heavy drinking, smoking and exchanging viruses at social gatherings may also increase the psoriasis symptoms.

What should I do to help myself then?

We have asked Primarius M.Sc Pij Bogomir Marko, MD from Slovenia for an advice.

„All of the previously mentioned reasons might make your life with psoriasis more difficult in wintertime. My first recommendation is- adhere to your therapy. If you are prescribed a medication for psoriasis, make sure that you are compliant and you take your medicine on time. The other advice is- if you feel stressed out, find something that helps you relax. And finally, even though the wither food is delicious and you don’t feel like exercising, try to follow as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Let that be your Christmas present to yourself. “

About psoriasis

Psoriasis is an immune-mediated disease[iii] that causes raised, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. It typically affects the outside of the elbows, knees or scalp, though it can appear on any location.

Some people report that psoriasis is itchy, burns and stings. Psoriasis is associated with other serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and depression.

Between 10 and 30% of people with psoriasis develop arthritis, and it can occur at any time, although it is most likely to appear between the ages of 30 and 50. It is not possible to know who will suffer from psoriatic arthritis, as there are no blood tests to predict it. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of chronic inflammation of the joints characterised by redness, swelling and pain in the affected joints.

In addition, there is a rare form of psoriatic disease, called Generalized Pustular Psoriasis (GPP), which is both physically and genetically different from Plaque Psoriasis. Pustules often cover large areas of the body and typically presents with fever, shivers, intense itching, a rapid pulse, fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle weakness, and joint pain. Flares can also cause life-threatening complications, such as a sudden drop in blood pressure.

[i] American Academy of Dermatology Association, https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/psoriasis/treatment/medications/phototherapy

[ii] WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis/7-psoriasis-triggers

[iii] National library of medicine, Psoriasis as an Immune-Mediated and Inflammatory Systemic Disease: From Pathophysiology to Novel Therapeutic Approaches, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8615182/