How Does My Environment Affect My Vasculitis Symptoms?

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by Allison Ross |

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I’ve always been an avid reader, with a focus on Victorian English and American literature in my younger years. In those tales, there seemed to be a common theme of the family sending an invalid relative to the seaside to recover from a chronic illness.

Often those invalids would spend many weeks or months there in an effort to cure consumption, rheumatism, or other maladies. The sad story of Beth from the novel “Little Women” is the first example that comes to mind.

As a contemporary girl in a world of modern medicine, I vaguely wondered what the point of this was. Does your environment really make that much of a difference?

Though I’m not a big fan of the beach, I do notice a huge improvement in my physical and mental health in the mountains. A trip to Colorado seems to clear my airways, dispel fatigue, and lift my spirits better than almost anywhere else in the U.S.

I find one of the most interesting things about vasculitis to be that we don’t know what causes it. Of course, there are many suggested theories, including genetics and environmental factors. The latter could be a reflection of nature in the region we live in, as well as places we visit. Or it could be on a more domestic scale, as it pertains to rooms in the house with mold or dust — which can irritate the respiratory system and cause further problems.

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To Drink or Not to Drink? That Is the Question With Vasculitis

Just last week I wrote about the issues present when a patient is exposed to sun. With certain medications, such as steroids, hot weather is a challenge. Skin reactions are the most common in patients who deal with dermal vasculitis symptoms.

Six years ago, I relocated from northeast Ohio to western Kansas. The shift from the Great Lakes climate to the high plains wasn’t all that shocking at first. Our winters are comparable, and Kansas gets hotter in late summer, but otherwise the seasons remain fairly similar to what I was accustomed to.

However, I did encounter allergic reactions for the first time. The milo and other crops that Kansas harvests badly irritate my skin, and seasonal allergies make my throat sore and give me a recurring cough from about April to July. According to my lab results, the allergies have never triggered a worse vasculitis issue, but I still monitor respiratory symptoms closely to make sure.

So if environment affects us in those milder ways, it’s reasonable to think that we should observe how it might trigger autoimmune disorders. But it might be a stretch to think that a certain region of the country is unfit for a patient to inhabit. Maybe not. We don’t know!

One major factor to consider is where vasculitis care centers are located. These tend to spring up around educational facilities, usually associated with a university or a hospital that specializes in vasculitis training. I was lucky to grow up less than an hour from the Cleveland Clinic, where I had access to world-class care and doctors who were experts in my condition. But this isn’t true for everyone, especially those in rural areas of the country.

Of course, it’s not feasible for many patients to get up and go to a new place just to accommodate their illness. The financial burden of moving is significant, and that’s on top of what it costs to handle the many facets of our disease (medications, lab tests, doctor visits, specific diet items, miscellaneous health tools).

Long-term, a move is something to consider — especially for those approaching retirement age and thinking of relocating anyway. But for someone young like me, we tend to require a principal home base with access to reliable work and a supportive social circle.

On the other hand, the recent increase in telehealth visits (presumably boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic) means no one needs to stay rooted anywhere. A patient could live in the northernmost region of Alaska and be able to interface with their doctor in a matter of a few seconds with a good internet connection.

I’m not advocating for changing towns so much as observing how local climates can affect us and musing on how much of an effect they might have on our health. Ultimately, that’s a study for physicians and researchers. Then we can consult with them to make important life decisions. I can only know what I’ve personally experienced and decide what’s best for me based on that.

In the meantime, a trip to the seaside or the mountains works wonders for mental health. I strive to retain awareness of how my body reacts to certain places as I wander through life and do my best to visit and live in areas that are best for vasculitis. Doing so teaches me more about my health — an invaluable mindset for staying in remission.

Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


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