Psoriasis has a tendency to flare as the season’s change. I write this as we move into springtime, and for me, this is my nemesis. I always see a worsening of my psoriasis at this time of year – and my two previous strep infections both happened in March. 

Evil March Strep Flare 2014

Russ Cowper has the opposite- he doesn’t notice any changes as we move towards the warmer months, his flares happen as we move into winter, and is a regular visitor on the Dermatology wards at Salford Royal (the nurses joke he has a Timeshare) in Manchester.

Here we look at some reasons why these flares happen, and some strategies you can use to help minimise their impact.

Reasons for flaring as we move into spring.

Change in diet

There is a notable difference in the way we eat as we transition into the warmer months.

This week I had my first breakfast smoothie and ate my first ‘platter’ of hams and olives with a balsamic side salad. 

When looking at dietary changes two major shifts happened this week:

The food I am eating is colder. I get tired if I overeat cold food (if you need a cup of tea after a sandwich or a salad then you may be like me). There is a long history of preferences for hot and food cold in Chinese medicine.

My acupuncturist classified me as ‘depleted,’ I am to eat warming foods that are easy to digest. Like stews which are partially broken down and rich in easily accessible nutrients. Using energy to heat up my food when I am already tired, in theory, depletes me further and makes me weaker.

There are ingredients my body hasn’t seen for many months: like Parma ham, olives, and lettuce. If I have an undiagnosed food intolerance, those foods may start to increase internal inflammation.

Increases in pollen 

We all love the emergence of the first snowdrop, and then the explosion of daffodils that quickly follows. If you have a sensitivity to pollen- the increasing temperatures and new life emerging from the stillness of winter can start to increase levels of histamine and get you feeling just that bit itchier.

Increasing humidity

Infectious microbes like bacteria are not very good at resisting the cold…so the increasing temperatures help to sustain them while they are doing their rounds in-between hosts. This means that there is often a flurry of infections at this time of year. I write this after spending the last two weeks ill with two different but equally exhausting infections.

Increase in mould spores

Another microbe that loves this time of year is fungi. The increasing warmth of this time of year, accompanied by plenty of water from spring-time showers makes mould and fungal spores a real problem for some people. Especially when you think about all of those rotting leaves left over from autumn.

If your one for spring cleaning- you may also unsettle lots of these mould spores that have settled in your house. Maybe get someone else to do it? Sounds like a good excuse to me 🙂

The stress of impending warm weather days

Sometimes stress can be a trigger at this time of year- as the days rapidly increase in temperature, perhaps you start to worry about the state of your skin and whether you can dare to bare in shorts and T-shirts? This is one of the catch 22’s of psoriasis. Stressing makes it worse…aaaargh!!!

Increased alcohol consumption

As the days are brighter, we start to feel more social. Inviting friends over on a Sunday, cracking open a bottle of wine as you relax in the last of the sunshine at the end of a hard day at work (or at lunchtime- I’m not judging you.)

So what can you do about it?

Speak to your doctor

There are several things your doctor can help with.

Checking for allergies: I went partially deaf last year, and my doctor couldn’t believe o hadn’t noticed (my ears are full of psoriasis, so I didn’t question it). My eardrums had filled with fluid- he suspected an allergy to Birch pollen. Prescribing a nasal spray to relieve the pressure helped clear the fluid from my ears. Anti-histamines can also be used to keep allergy symptoms under control. Just check with your doctor first, before you end up buying things you don’t need.

Your doctor can also help you develop a plan for treating your psoriasis in preparation for the summer if you are struggling with stress, Don’t feel alone- there are options out there.

Exercise more

Exercise can help with stress (though if you have allergies, you may need to plan ahead or do this indoors). It also gives you feel good endorphins and increases muscle tone, which helps you get those shorts on.

Sleep.

Just pretend you can’t hear anyone…sleep is the ultimate

Rest will help make sure your body is healthy for shifting off those infections. It will also improve your mood and reduce inflammation. It really is miraculous stuff if you can get enough of it.

Record

Record what your eating and how it makes you feel. This can help you identify any patterns in your dietary habits and your physical reactions. Some may not be what you expect. For example, Tomatoes make me itch within 30 minutes, but dairy makes me feel really tired- and the effects in my skin are delayed by 3 days. You can get a copy of my food diary for free in the Team-P resource area. (not a member? Join here)

Reasons for Flaring as we move into Winter

Dehydration (whole body)

Something very interesting happens as we move into winter. Because the air is dryer- our sweat evaporates more quickly, so it doesn’t sit on the skin surface. This means we rarely feel sweaty…even though we are sweating. The result? Dehydration. Make sure you drink enough water.

This is made worse by the weight of our clothes- think about how heavy our coats and jumpers are when we carry them- our bodies are doing that extra work- and sweating for it.

Dehydration (skin)

The air is dryer in winter, which isn’t helped by the fact its lovely to hibernate indoors with the heating on. Central heating dries the air and this, in turn, pulls water from our skin. So in addition to drinking more water- we need to hydrate topically as well. 

In winter I prefer to use body butter, and creams that include oils such as shea and argan as they hydrate the skin. Shea butter help forms a film on the skin surface- those creams you have that feeling a little oily do help to keep moisture in.

Mould spores

Yep- mold spores again- because they are problematic and peak again at this time of year as the growth from the summer starts to die off. The rotting process is done in part by fungi- and they shed their spores profusely during this happy food binge season. Yay for mould, nay for you.

Vitamin Who?

Vitamin D is made in the skin by sunlight- but did you know that it can only be made in the UK between late match and mid to late September? This is because the wavelength of sunlight changes as we move through the year, and the wavelength of light is wrong for making vitamin D in late autumn and winter. 

The result? Depending on your diet, and your sun exposure in the summer, you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. 

Speak to your doctor about this before you start dosing up- as high levels of vitamin D can be toxic.

Want ideas on how to increase vitamin D levels using diet? I talked to Nutritionist Sally Duffin about this back in episode 3 🙂

Short days = sad days?

SAD is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I swear I thought this was imaginary in my twenties…but now I definitely notice I feel less happy in winter. Some of us are susceptible to the dramatic reduction in sunlight during the winter months, and they can affect our skin on two levels.

One- losing the benefits of the sun (if your skin responds well to it)

Two- feeling depressed isn’t good for healing (or making good food choices…hello chocolate and crisps!)

Irritating clothing?

If your nan ever knitted you a real wool sweater, then you know what I am talking about. Sometimes it’s the clothes that we wear that can irritate our skin. Clothes should feel good, and be breathable when living with psoriasis so get yourself down to the shops if this is a problem for you. 

More alcohol?

Yes, I’m looking at you festive period. I drink more this month (at home!) then I do in the rest of the year combined. There’s something about a spicy, full-bodied red wine and an open fire that I just can’t resist. For you, it may be party season and a few shots of vodka- or even ‘just’ a massive sugar binge. Excess sugar and alcohol are not suitable for psoriasis, both are inflammatory and possible flare culprits.

If you can bare it- try recording your intake using the food diary I recommended in the spring section. 

How about you?

Do you find changes in the weather affect your psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis?

Or is it something else that changes with the seasons?

If you know anyone who does flare as the season’s change- send them this article using the share buttons below and then enjoy the warm glow that comes with helping others, because you deserve it.x

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