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For Psoriasis Patients, Rochester’s Cold Winters Can Also Mean Red, Itchy Skin

Snow BlowerCold, snowy winters are a common feature of western New York. However, a number of reports suggest that this year is more severe than others in Rochester. On Monday, for example, the National Weather Service reported that there were 20 inches of snow on the ground, the highest amount since March 1999. Similarly, as of Thursday, temperatures had dropped below freezing for 24 days in a row, a figure that breaks no records but still stands in stark contrast to other areas in the country. Then, there are the smaller details all Rochester residents are familiar with: waking up to negative temperatures, having to shovel driveways and sidewalks just to leave one’s home, watching snow fall for two straight weeks, and more.

But as miserable as these conditions may be, things are often even worse for people with moderate to severe skin problems. Take psoriasis: this common skin disorder causes scaly, itchy and dry patches in as many as seven and a half million people across the United States. Currently, medical professionals are unsure what exactly what causes psoriasis, but they are fairly certain it is connected to the body’s immune system. However, both patients and doctors do know that the condition is triggered by different factors, which differ from person to person. Stress, dry skin, certain medications, dietary choices and illnesses have all been found to cause flare ups in psoriasis patients. But one of the most prominent triggers is cold weather; low temperatures, dry air and short daylight hours, not to mention the stress of dealing with ice and snow, can make controlling psoriasis all but impossible.

This condition can become so severe that some doctors may even suggest that psoriasis sufferers in the northern United States and Canada take a tropical vacation, since sunlight’s ultraviolet rays have been shown to significantly improve some cases of the skin disorder, likely because the UV-rays can turn off the skin’s immune system. For this reason, dermatologists often use ultraviolet lamps to treat their patients with psoriasis. In a recent study from the University Medical Center Utrecht, the University of Groningen, and St. Antonius Hospital in the Netherlands, ultraviolet lamps used in patients’ homes were just as safe and effective as conventional phototherapy in a hospital setting.

However, light therapy may not work for everyone, and a sunburn can even trigger a flare up. Fortunately, in addition to phototherapy or UV light treatments, psoriasis can be treated with topical creams, lotions, shampoos or ointments, pills or injections to affect the body’s immune response. The right treatment should only be determined and prescribed by a dermatologist, but with an effective therapy, psoriasis patients can make it through winter without having to suffer red, dry and itchy skin. The ice, snow and cold drafts, however, will last until spring.