In the past few weeks I’ve had several people in the auto-immune community say to me in wonder, “I don’t know how you live in Alaska.” Mainly, this is because of the cold. Alaska is known for its breath taking scenery, wild life, Sarah Palin (lol), and it’s sub-zero temps. Did I mention that our state is bigger than Texas?!
|The Pacific Ocean|
Yeah, it’s totally BONE chilling cold in the winter. I get creaky stiff joints, locked up knees, and numb purple and white colored fingers and toes (thanks to my Raynaud’s).
The key to living in a cold climate when you have an auto-immune disease (or most often multiple AI diseases) is to stay warm (duh).
|Me warming my hands by the fire at the Chena Hot Springs Ice Museum (2008) in Fairbanks, Alaska.|
|Trapped in an ice outhouse at Chena Hot Springs Ice Museum (2008) … I froze my tush off (literally!!).|
All kidding aside, living in a cold climate with an auto immune disease(s) is serious stuff and takes a bit of compromise when it comes to certain activities. For example, going to see a movie in the winter is a complete no-go for me. The movie theaters are cold, I get chilled (no matter how warm I dress), my knees lock up and I can’t walk. If I do any sort of outdoor activities in the winter, I’m generally limited to a 30 to 45 minute window outside (completely bundled), and even that’s pushing it.
When you have Raynaud’s disease, frostbite is something you have to be very cognizant of, especially in cold climates. My fingers and toes will turn sheet white just from walking from my car into the grocery store.
Cold dry weather can compound issues for those of us with psoriasis. Normally when the weather is really dry my patches (if I have any) are more likely to crack open and bleed. Course, this causes more irritation, more itching, and my patches are more likely to grow larger.
|Just a few miles from our house|
I am amazingly blessed to live in such a beautiful place. The scenery here in Alaska constantly reminds me of the majesty of God and His power, but the elements here can easily remind me of the frail human I am.
|A view above the clouds at Chair 5 Alyeska Ski Resort, Girdwood, Alaska|
**Disclaimer** I am not a medical doctor, nor do I profess to know all there is to know about auto-immune diseases. I am simply posting my opinions and what I have found to work for me as someone who has been diagnosed with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon. Please consult your doctor if you have any questions regarding cold weather and the management of your auto-immune disease(s).
Surviving Psoriasis in a Cold Climate
Use scent free/dye free laundry detergent. I know it’s tempting, but don’t use those dryer sheets! I’ll be the first to admit I hate giving up dryer sheets – especially because the dry air leads to static filled clothes, which is so annoying!!
Be picky when it comes to choosing body soaps and lotions. The dermatologist recommended I use an unscented bar soap. That didn’t worked out too well for me. Bar soaps completely dry out my skin. I have found body wash for sensitive skin works best, and does not dry out my skin. Although I urge you to find what works best for you. What works for my body make up and chemistry may not work for yours.
Don’t wear fleece clothing directly on your skin. It doesn’t allow your skin to breath properly and will cause irritation. If you do wear fleece, at least wear a cotton base layer underneath it.
When I’m really itchy, I’ve found taking a bath helps. Followed by coating myself in some sort of heavy cream like Aveeno or Cetaphil, and then putting on cotton or flannel pjs to lock the moisture in so my skin can absorb it. If you don’t have any heavy cream, try using a bit of olive oil.
Surviving Raynaud’s Phenomenon in a Cold Climate
First rule of thumb: Keep your house warm!
Dress warm. Wear multiple layers and make sure you have gloves, a hat, and warm boots/shoes with you at all times if you venture out of your house. I carry extra gear and blankets in my car!
Honestly though, no matter how warm I dress, the symptoms of Raynaud’s still rear their ugly head. So here’s how I cope:
I carry the instant heat hand warmers in my purse to slip into my gloves or pockets when needed. I have extras stashed in my car too. They also make instant heat insoles for your shoes!
If I’m driving and can’t use a hand warmer I turn my heat up all the way and alternate putting my hands on the vents to “revive” them. Probably not the smartest idea, but it’s a last resort.
The best $10 I have ever spent for my Raynaud’s has been the Bed Buddy Warming Footies with Aromatherapy from Bed Bath & Beyond. These slippers have a removable herbal heat pack you stick in your microwave for 90 seconds; put the herbal packs back in to the slippers, then viola! Warming heat for at least an hour. You can’t walk with them on, but they are perfect for sitting on the couch and watching tv. They also make Bed Buddy Warming Mittens with Aromatherapy, although I have not purchased these yet – I need to.
Other ways I cope are warm baths, heating pads and blankets, a cup filled with hot coffee (that I can wrap my hands around), and I sometimes stick my ice cold feet on the bare legs of my wonderful husband (he happens to absolutely love this and I bet your partner/significant other would too!).
Surviving Auto-Immune Arthritis in Cold Climates
Out of the 3 diseases I have, this one is the most challenging for me. Is there really such a thing as surviving arthritis? Surviving any type of auto-immune disease?
As with Raynaud’s (and I can’t say this enough), dress warm. Invest quality layering pieces. There are lots of different brands out there, so do your research before you purchase. I normally wear a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, then a fleece, then my Patagonia goose down coat. I bought it just a bit large so I could put several layering pieces underneath it if I wanted.
Be extra careful when walking on snow and ice. Any sort of bone break or sprain can really cause those of us with auto-immune arthritis some major damage.
When cold weather leads to extra stiff muscles and joints, try taking a warm bath in epsom salts then asking your partner/spouse for a massage.
If it’s really cold and nasty outside, hibernate. I know sometimes that’s not an option, but if it is an option, just stay home, stay warm, and take it easy.
Invest in an auto-start for your vehicle. When I’m at the grocery store paying for my items, I start my car, that way it’s nice and toasty by the time I leave.
I have to be very careful with my wedding rings in the winter. My hands are so volatile with their swelling and shrinking. I’ve nearly lost my rings a few times.
|Moose in my yard|
There really is no perfect answer to surviving any type of auto-immune disease in Alaska or any other cold climate. It’s cold. We suffer. Sometimes the pain really, really sucks. We’ve learned to adapt and roll with the punches, but all of us do that who have been diagnosed with any sort of disease. Don’t we? Sometimes the road for one is harder than for another. Truth is, no matter what our situation, sometimes we just have to make the best of it and try to build our life around diseases which we REFUSE to let control US.
Which is one of the main reasons why some of us refuse the medication and eat the way we do. We want more than anything to beat these stupid diseases – naturally. We don’t want to be part of a percentage. We want to beat the odds; not only for ourselves, but for our children.
So to answer my earlier question, is there really such as thing as surviving arthritis? Absolutely.