Written by: Jenny Cade
Most of us know that we’re more likely to get a cold, sore throat, flu or other virus in winter. But did you know that the chilly temperatures and dry air during the winter months can also cause a range of other health issues and worsen pre-existing ones?
What should you watch out for?
Asthma – exposure to cold winds, dry air and sudden changes in weather can all trigger an asthma attack. A cold or other respiratory infection can also make asthma symptoms worse. And for those who get exercise-induced asthma, participating in winter sports can mean their symptoms increase. Talk to your doctor about your asthma action plan so you know how to manage your asthma during winter.
Achy muscles and joints – many people say that their arthritis aches and pains get worse in cold or wet weather. While evidence to support this joint pain/weather connection is not easy to find, the important thing is to note what people say and find ways to help relieve their pain. Some suggestions are:
- Layer your clothing to manage the cold e.g. wear gloves, tights and scarves that can be removed once the temperature warms up during the day
- Use heat for comfort – wheat bags, hot water bottles or heat-producing creams might all be helpful. Ask your pharmacist about stick-on heat pads – you wear these on your clothing, near your skin and they stay warm for 12 hours. Available in 3 different sizes for warming hands, feet or larger body areas, my Mum loves these!
- Talk to your pharmacist also about medicines for pain relief and other ways to manage your arthritis this winter.
Circulation problems – Raynauds disease is also a winter ailment. People with Raynauds have poor circulation caused by the narrowing of small arteries. This causes their fingers, toes or other extremities such as ear lobes or the tip of the nose, to turn white and feel tingly or numb in cold temperatures.
The best strategy for dealing with Raynauds is to try and stay warm!
- Wear warm gloves, thick socks and slippers.
- Hand and foot warmers like those mentioned above will help
- If it’s your fingers that are affected, holding a warm cup of tea, coffee or other drink will also help to warm up your fingers.
- Swinging your arms around during an attack may help to restore a normal circulation to your fingers.
Dry itchy skin – Dry air, both outside and inside our homes, means drier skin. Dry skin isn’t pretty to look at and it can become itchy and even infected.
Moisturising is the key to avoiding and treating dry skin – more about this in my next blog coming soon!
Seasonal Affective Disorder – (SAD) is a form of depression that affects people through the winter months. Like depression, SAD can affect how you feel and behave for weeks or months at a time. SAD might also be called depressive disorder with seasonal pattern or people talk about the ‘winter blues’. It’s all the same thing and is thought to be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by the drop in sunlight that occurs during the shorter days of winter. It is less likely to occur in New Zealand than in countries where there is little sunlight in winter but it does still occur here.
When you are depressed, your low mood lasts, affecting your sleep, energy levels, relationships, job and appetite. If you think you are experiencing SAD, talk to your doctor. Treatment may be as simple as staying out in the sun for a time each day, or it may mean being treated for depression through the winter months.
Viruses – the viruses that cause colds and flu are around all year but we all know that we are more likely to suffer from a cold or flu during the winter months. One theory to explain this is that the virus droplets survive longer in dry air.
To help boost your chances of avoiding a cold or flu you can:
- Have a flu vaccine – see my blog Get Ready for Winter published June 2016
- Keep your hands clean and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. As viruses are spread by contact, hand-washing is a simple basic strategy to help you stay well. Using plain soap and water is all that’s required.
- Stay away from sick people and if you’re the one who is sick – stay away from others and stop the spreading!
This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked materials, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.