Most people with lupus are, unfortunately, very familiar with symptom flares. The triggers that cause these sudden increases in pain and other symptoms of lupus can vary from person to person, and sometimes flares seem to occur at random.
However, winter is an especially difficult time of year for many Lupus Warriors.
How does cold weather impact lupus disease activity?
Cold temperatures could be causing painful flare-ups as blood vessels constrict in the cold to prevent heat loss. As the blood vessels get smaller, the pressure increases in the head, joints, and limbs. This increased pressure restricts blood flow to the fingers, toes, and extremities. Many people with lupus already have restricted blood flow, especially if they are experiencing Raynaud’s Phenomenon, and this blood vessel constriction can cause a minor type of frostbite. As the tissues in the fingers and toes are starved of oxygen, they become damaged and begin to hurt badly.
Winter brings other potential triggers besides the cold, however, that Lupus Warriors have to deal with as well, including:
Dry Air and Lupus
Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and this can dry out your nasal passages and windpipe. Not only does this make you more vulnerable to respiratory infections, but it irritates the throat and can lead to an inflammatory response. It can also be stressful. All of these are known triggers of lupus flares, so you should keep an eye out for that.
Bad Weather and Lupus
Winter is a turbulent time, and winter storms come and go. Along the way, storms change the barometric pressure around them frequently. Even for people with lupus who are not bothered by the cold, these pressure changes can cause symptom flares and pain. Though the scientific reasons behind these flare-ups isn’t fully known, it is likely related to other weather-sensitive health problems, such as joint pain and headaches.
Sun Exposure and Lupus
Sun exposure isn’t just a worry in summertime — If you are in a place that experiences snow, sun exposure can be a nasty surprise in the winter. This is particularly true if you have photosensitive skin. Sunlight reflects off of snow and ice, increasing UV exposure and triggering symptom flares.
How do you avoid flares in winter?
There is a lot that you can do to protect yourself from lupus flares this winter.
The most important that you can do to battle the cold weather is keep warm: Dressing in layers, turning up the thermostat of your home, protecting exposed skin when going outside, and drinking warm liquids can help keep your body temperature up. You should cover your hands and feed in particular with warm gloves and socks – this helps prevent them from getting too cold.
A humidifier can also be a great investment to moisten the air and your throat. If you live with other people, a humidifier makes them more comfortable too, so it is a win for everyone. You can buy humidifiers in most home appliance stores at this time of year.
There isn’t much you can do about the cold weather besides trying to stay inside when possible. However, if you live in a region with wild winter storms, keeping an eye on the weather report can at least help you predict your next flare. From there, you can use your usual methods for managing your lupus flares. Read more here for tips on how some lupus experts manage their flares, or on how art therapy may help you get through a cold and windy day.
Do you need a little more help predicting your flares? We have some research on the subject here.
In the meantime, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, and get plenty of sleep. Don’t avoid exercise either – exercising indoors will help keep you active and producing inflammation-fighting chemicals without needing to brave the cold.
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