Year after year winters become harder, and some of us aren’t used to the consequences of cold weather. We decided to bring together some information about the pains and illnesses that might be caused by the season, and how to prevent them as possible.
Initially, keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.
Common Cold and Flu
The common cold is another disease which attacks all ages; however, children are especially vulnerable. On average, a child will get four to eight colds per year. The good thing is that as children grow, they develop resistance to more and more types of cold viruses.
Colds typically start with a scratchy, irritated throat, muscle aches, headache, decreased appetite and sneezing. There is no vaccine for the common cold as there are more than 200 types of cold viruses. Treatment is usually aimed at the symptoms and as the old adage goes, “A cold will disappear in a week if you treat it and it will go away in seven days if you don’t.”
Some people suffer with sinusitis (inflammation of the sinus in the nasal cavity) all year round, but the cold weather seems to aggravate this condition for many. Histamine release causes constriction along the nasal cavity, which makes it difficult for the person to breathe. Sinusitis can also cause frequent sneezing, irritability and a mild headache. A build-up of mucous only increases the severity of the symptoms. There are a number of sinus medications available to help decrease the swelling and mucous production, but sometimes antibiotics are necessary.
Cold viruses and the flu can be passed through coughing, sneezing and contaminated surfaces, such as the hands. Try to reduce your risk of exposure by regular washing of the hands with warm, soapy water for about 15 seconds. Children should be taught to do the same. Try to limit your exposure with sick people and practice healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising, doing your best to keep stress in check, drinking plenty of fluids, and dressing warm for the weather.
Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both. This is called acute gastroenteritis. The most common symptoms; diarrhea, throwing up, nausea, stomach pain. Other symptoms; fever, headache, body aches.
A person usually develops symptoms 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to norovirus. Most people with norovirus illness get better within 1 to 3 days.
If you have norovirus illness, you can feel extremely ill and throw up or have diarrhea many times a day. This can lead to dehydration, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other illnesses.
Symptoms of dehydration; decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, feeling dizzy when standing up. Children who are dehydrated may cry with few or no tears and be unusually sleepy or fussy.
Preventing Norovirus Infection
Practice proper hand hygiene; wash your hands carefully with soap and water.
Wash fruits and vegetables and cook seafood thoroughly
- Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
- Be aware that noroviruses are relatively resistant. They can survive temperatures as high as 140F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish.
- Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.
- Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled and prepared.
When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for others who are sick
You should not prepare food for others or provide healthcare while you are sick and for at least 2 days after symptoms stop. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to norovirus.
Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces.
Wash laundry thoroughly
Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated.
Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They’re caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days.
You may not have any symptoms when you first become infected with the herpes simplex virus. An outbreak of cold sores may happen some time later.
Cold sores often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Small fluid-filled sores then appear, usually on the edges of your lower lip.
It’s not possible to prevent infection with the herpes simplex virus or prevent outbreaks of cold sores, but you can take steps to minimize the spread of infection.
Cold sores are at their most contagious when they burst (rupture), but remain contagious until they’re completely healed. Avoid close contact with others until your cold sore has completely healed and disappeared.
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and will not be able to do anything about it.
Signs of hypothermia
The signs of hypothermia vary depending on how low a person’s temperature has dropped. Initial symptoms include shivering, tiredness, fast breathing and cold or pale skin.
As the temperature drops, shivering becomes more violent, although it will stop completely if the hypothermia gets worse. The person is likely to become delirious and struggle to breathe or move. They may lose consciousness.
Babies with hypothermia may look healthy, but their skin will feel cold. They may also be limp, unusually quiet and refuse to feed.
There are several things you can do to prevent hypothermia. Simple measures can help, such as wearing appropriate warm clothing in cold weather and ensuring that children are well wrapped up when they go outside.
Whenever possible, keep an eye on elderly or ill neighbors and relatives to ensure that their home is warm during cold weather.
Cold Hands “Raynaud’s phenomenon”
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that affects the blood supply to certain parts of the body – usually the fingers and toes. It is usually triggered by cold temperatures, anxiety or stress. The condition occurs because your blood vessels go into a temporary spasm, which blocks the flow of blood.
This causes the affected area to change colour to white, then blue and then red, as the blood flow returns. You may also experience numbness, pain, and pins and needles.
Symptoms of Raynaud’s can last from a few minutes to several hours. It’s not a serious threat to your health, but can be annoying to live with, because it can be difficult to use your fingers. People with Raynaud’s often go for long periods without any symptoms, and sometimes the condition goes away altogether.
Other parts of the body that can be affected by Raynaud’s include the ears, nose, nipples and lips.
In many cases, it may be possible to control the symptoms of Raynaud’s yourself by avoiding the cold, wearing gloves and using relaxation techniques when feeling stressed.
Stopping smoking can also improve symptoms, as smoking can affect your circulation.
Arthritis (Joint Pain)
Arthritis is another condition that may be triggered or made worse by the cold weather. Most people who suffer from arthritis will agree that cold, damp weather increases their arthritis pain. Research from Tuft’s University suggests changes in barometric pressure worsen knee pain in people with arthritis, while colder temperatures can cause painful changes in joint fluid thickness. Other studies have shown very few or no links between weather and joint pain. If the cold weather bothers your arthritis pain, keep moving! Your joints need exercise as it helps to lubricate them to prevent/reduce pain. Supplements and vitamin D help some people; however, you should consult your physician about which supplements are appropriate for you. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins K and C have been noted to curb inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
Dress warmly, work out inside, and get enough vitamin D. These are some of the ways you can get arthritis pain relief despite the bone-chilling cold of winter weather.
Heart Disease Complications
During colder seasons, heart disease cases tend to increase because the cold, winter temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict, which can inevitably cause the person to be at risk for stroke, myocardial infarction and artery rupture.
Eat well in winter
Food is a vital source of energy, which helps keep your body warm. Try to make sure that you have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day and keep active in the home if you can.
We all know that exercise is good for your overall health – and it can keep you warm in winter. If you can stay active, even moderate exercise can bring health benefits. If possible, try not to sit still for more than an hour or so.
Wear warm clothes
Wrap up warm, inside and out. Wear lots of thin layers – clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibers are particularly good and help to maintain body heat. If possible, stay inside during a cold period if you have heart or respiratory problems.
When it’s cold outside, some of us prolong our hot showers and baths, which is a recipe for dry, irritated skin. Instead it’s recommended that you:
- Keep the shower as brief as possible and use lukewarm, not hot, water.
- Switch to less aggressive, moisture-rich soaps made for sensitive skin, such as those made by Dove and Aveeno.
- Gently pat yourself dry to avoid traumatizing or overdrying the skin.
- Apply moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp.
Whether you have eczema, psoriasis, or severe dry skin (known as xerosis), you need to replace any moisture the dry air steals away.
Bruce Strober, MD, PhD, director of the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Center at NYU Medical Center in New York City, understands that not everyone, especially men, will take time to do so. “I tell patients that I don’t care how they moisturize, just do it regularly in a way that you like.” He recommends targeting problem areas first.
Dress for less irritation
If your skin does flare up, choose soft, breathable fabrics, like cotton, instead of itchy woolens or polyester. Loose-fitting clothing will also help to keep your skin from chafing and becoming irritated by perspiration.
If you’re stressed, chances are you’re not drinking enough water. You might also be drinking coffee or soda, which can be dehydrating. And if your body doesn’t get the proper hydration it needs, your skin will end up feeling and looking dry.