5 Tips to Avoid Seasonal Scratchiness

The furnace kicks on and right afterward your life becomes a misery – dry eyes plague you, dry skin leaves you feeling itchy and grumpy, and seasonal eczema patches blossom over your upper arms and thighs. These are symptoms that can torture you, but usually aren’t a high healthcare priority when you see your doctor, because they don’t usually damage your health. In fact, taking medications for them is much more likely to cause a serious problem than the symptoms themselves. So what’s a body to do? Here are some practical, cheap and effective ways to help you avoid seasonal suffering:

Bathing in a small metal bathtub

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1) Join the Pits and Crotch (and Feet) Club – so named by a great NP that I work with, the PCF club is for anyone with eczema of any kind, including the seasonal variety. Members of the PCF club only use soap on their designated PCF (ahem) members, which is to say – pits, crotch and feet. Soap is BANNED from any other part of your body. While cleanliness is in fact (to a germ) next to godliness, many of us should not be showering as often as we do in this society. The PCF club is a good compromise. Take that shower every day or every other day, but ban the soap from all your non-PCF parts.

2) Oil Up – For those of us plagued with dry, scaly or itchy skin in general, ’tis the season to be…oily. Your skin holds onto moisture through its natural oils. Soaping destroys natural oils, and even water diminishes it. A nice trick is to shower or bathe, then pat yourself damp-dry and THEN, before you get any drier, put a pure, light body oil directly on your skin. You might be amazed at how much your skin can soak up. WARNING: Keep another towel handy for after you’ve finished your tooth-brushing and other bathroom activities to blot up any possible oil excess oil before getting dressed – otherwise that lovely silk shirt may never be the same again. If you have friends/roommates that you’ve noticed begin to bathe in the evening in the winter – dry skin is probably the reason why. Putting on some soft pajamas after applying oil is a nice way to deal with the potential-excess oil issue.

3) Dry eyes – Here’s a great article by Dr. Andrew Weill about natural ways to deal with dry eyes at MSN Health & Fitness. His tips include using a humidifier, blinking more frequently, resisting the urge to scrub your eyes and an important warning that you should avoid drops other than those clearly labeled as artificial tears. I would add a warning that some people can develop red/itchy allergic reactions to the preservatives in all drops, even in the artificial tears. So if your eyes worsen, you need to stop using all drops and see an eye doctor promptly – it’s important to avoid the trap of thinking maybe you just need even more tears and keep going – which can result in serious consequences.

4) Ingest Well – In addition to those tips, I’d add that alcohol can be an important factor in worsening night-time dry eyes/mouth. Try cutting out the evening glass of wine for a few days and see if it helps your symptoms. On the plus side, data (and Dr. Weill) both point to the critical role omega-3 fatty acids play in ameliorating the symptoms of dry eyes. Many people also swear by its effectiveness in improving skin conditions. Consider investing in either some omega-3 capsules or even the whole bottle of the oil (available relatively cheaply at Trader Joe’s). If you get the whole oil, you can put it in salad dressing, or use it instead of butter on baked potatoes, pancakes and a whole host of other foods. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, degrade rapidly at high heat – the oil should not be used as a cooking oil, and, for optimal benefit, it should be kept in the refrigerator after opening. Give omega-3 fatty acids a try for three weeks and see if it makes a difference for you – blinded studies show that it can help in populations of people, and it’s good for your health in many other ways.

5) Humidify – Many people worry about mold exposure from using humidifiers. Mold can grow inside the reservoir of all kinds of humidifiers (warm air humidifiers are the worst culprits). The machine can then aerosolize mold into the room. Dr. Weill also includes a warning to change your humidifier water frequently. I would add that when it comes to humidifiers, sometimes the simplest and cheapest can be the best – an easy way to humidify your home before bedtime, with no/low risk of mold growth, is by boiling water (or making vegetable stock!) on the stove until the windows steam up, then turning it off. That’s often sufficient to humidify your home during the night – the time of worst symptoms for most people.

Here’s wishing you a moist holiday season! Do you have some more tips, or some new data on the issues? Add them in the comments section.

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