’Tis the Season... for Chronic Conditions
Sep 05, 2018 12:00AM ● Published by Brian Saucedo
By Kelsey Casselbury
It’s September, and the hot, muggy heat of Maryland is finally going to cool down. While the region might have a few weeks (maybe even a couple months!) of temperate, enjoyable weather, winter is right around the corner. When the biting air comes, so can a number of chronic conditions, such as cold sores, eczema, and rosacea. These are uncomfortable to endure and difficult to manage. With a little knowledge and self-care, though, you can get through another chilly season without too much discomfort.
Chilly, dry air and wind are just two of the many triggers for cold sores, which is why they are more common during winter months. In fact, just look to the name of the condition—cold sores aren’t caused by the same virus that inflicts the common cold, but rather tend to show up more often in the chilly months of the year.
The Cause. Around two-thirds of Americans have the HSV-1 virus, the cause of cold sores. Yes, this is a herpes virus, but it’s different than the sexually transmitted disease. (While we’re on the subject of myth-busting, cold sores are not the same thing as canker sores, painful ulcers inside the mouth that are usually caused by an injury to the mouth, stress, hormonal imbalance, or acidic or spicy foods.)
However, not everyone who carries the HSV-1 virus actually gets cold sores—it all depends on how the virus interacts with your body. For 60 percent of people, the body develops antibodies when the first outbreak appears. For the remaining 40 percent, the virus can be triggered by winter weather, as well as stress, allergies, and certain foods. Although cold sores typically pop up around your mouth, it’s not uncommon to experience them in other places on your body, including your nose, fingers, and cheeks.
Managing the Condition. It’s important to remember that you can pass on the virus at any time, even if you don’t currently have a cold sore. The best way to manage the discomfort of a cold sore is to take action as soon as you feel that tell-tale tingle on the edge of your mouth. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can be taken to lessen the pain and shorten the outbreak, but they have to be administered in the very early stages of the outbreak. Unfortunately, there’s not yet a cure for cold sores. You can also press a cold pack against the sore and take painkillers to relieve discomfort.
Eczema isn’t just one condition, but rather a cluster of conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed, red, and itchy. Some of these conditions, such as contact dermatitis, have no relation to the weather or time of year. However others, like atopic dermatitis and nummular eczema, are triggered by the cold, dry air of winter weather, as well as the allergies that are so prevalent during autumn months. Like cold sores, eczema can lay dormant for months or longer, but as a chronic condition, it will eventually flare up.
The Cause. Atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, can be blamed on your immune system, which goes into overdrive in response to allergies or irritants both inside and outside the body. Therefore, if you suffer from fall allergies, your body might manifest those allergies on the skin as eczema. It can also worsen with the use of harsh soaps or the hot showers you take to get warm during the winter months, both of which are external irritants that cause severe itching, cracked, scaly skin, and reddish-brown discoloration. Another type, nummular eczema, is triggered by cold, dry winter weather, but it looks different than atopic dermatitis. People with this type of eczema develop incredibly itchy round spots on their skin, and might suffer from wet, open, and painful sores.
Managing the Condition. Dry skin makes the itching of eczema even worse, so moisturize your skin at least twice a day. You might have to undergo some trial and error to find a lotion that doesn’t irritate the skin, as well as soaps and body washes that don’t trigger a flare-up. There is also a solution you might not have considered; the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a bleach bath up to two times per week—add 1/2 cup of standard household (not concentrated) bleach to a tub of warm water that’s filled to the overflow drainage hole.
Rosacea begins with the tendency to blush or flush more easily than others, and gradually increases in duration until it seems like your cheeks, neck, and ears are constantly red. With certain subtypes, your eyes might be affected or your skin can thicken into a bumpy texture.
The Cause. More than 16 million Americans suffer from rosacea, the official cause of which is unknown. It’s thought that it might be hereditary or it could be the work of bacteria, both intestinal and on the skin. Like other skin conditions, rosacea flare-ups can be triggered by cold winter weather and the heat inside buildings, which dry out your skin.
Managing the Condition. Treat rosacea like you might treat eczema—avoid super-hot baths and showers, stay inside when the wind is bracing, and moisturize your skin a lot. Sunscreen is important in the treatment of rosacea, too, as UV rays can trigger the condition. Remember, just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the sun’s beams aren’t hitting your face.