Prevention key to avoid cold triggered ailments
Although winter comes as no surprise, many of us are not ready for its arrival. If you are prepared for the hazards of winter, you will be more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures start to fall. Some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat and cold sores, are triggered or worsened by cold weather. Here’s how to deal with cold weather ailments:
Colds: You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys bugs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people, such as light switches and door handles. It’s also important to keep the house and any household items such as cups, glasses and towels clean, especially if someone in your house is ill. If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of fabric handkerchiefs to avoid constantly reinfecting your own hands.
Sore throat: Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections. There’s some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat. One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water. It won’t heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect.
Asthma: Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter. Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth. Be extra vigilant about taking your regular medications, and keep reliever inhalers close by.
Norovirus: Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. The illness is unpleasant, but it’s usually over within a few days. When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk. By drinking oral rehydration fluids (available from pharmacies), you can reduce the risk of dehydration.
Painful joints: Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff in winter, though it’s not clear why this is the case. There’s no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage. Many people get a little depressed during the winter months, and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions. Daily exercise can boost a person's mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it’s easy on the joints.
Cold sores: Most of us recognise that cold sores are a sign that we’re run down or under stress. While there’s no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter. Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park, or watching one of your favourite films.
Heart attacks: Heart attacks are more common in winter. This may be because cold weather increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to maintain body heat when it’s cold. Stay warm in your home. Heat the main rooms you use to at least 18C and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed. Wrap up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.
Cold hands and feet: Reynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather. Fingers can go white, then blue, then red, and throb and tingle. The small blood vessels of the hands and feet go into spasm, temporarily reducing blood flow to your hands and feet. In severe cases, medication can help, but most people manage to live with their symptoms. Don’t smoke or drink caffeine (both can worsen symptoms) and always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.
Dry skin: Dry skin is a common condition and is often worse during the winter, when environmental humidity is low. Moisturising is essential during winter. Contrary to popular belief, moisturising lotions and creams aren’t absorbed by the skin. Instead, they act as a sealant to stop the skin’s natural moisture evaporating away. The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist, and again at bedtime. Have warm, rather than hot, showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy.
Flu: Flu can be a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are particularly at risk. The best way to prevent getting flu is to have the flu jab(or flu nasal spray for children aged 2 to 17). The flu vaccine gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year. If you are over 65 or have a long term health condition, you are also eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which provides protection against pneumonia. Find out if you’re at risk of getting flu and see your GP to get the vaccination.
Many people prefer to remain indoors during winter, but staying inside is no guarantee of safety. Take these steps to keep your home safe and warm during the winter months.
Winterize your home: Install weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows. Insulate water lines that run along exterior walls. Clean out gutters and repair roof leaks. Check your heating systems. Have your heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly, and ventilated to the outside. Inspect and clean fireplaces and chimneys. Install a smoke detector. Test batteries monthly and replace them twice a year. Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available. Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) emergencies. Install a CO detector to alert you of the presence of the deadly, odorless, colorless gas. Check batteries when you change your clocks in the fall and spring. Learn symptoms of CO poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
Get your car ready for cold weather: Service the radiator and maintain antifreeze level; check tire tread or, if necessary, replace tires with all-weather or snow tires. Keep gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Use a wintertime formula in your windshield washer. Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded. The kit should include: Cell phone, portable charger, and extra batteries; blankets; food and water; booster cables, flares, tire pump, and a bag of sand or cat litter (for traction); compass and maps; flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries; first-aid kit; and plastic bags (for sanitation).
Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: wear a tightly woven, preferably wind-resistant coat or jacket; inner layers of light, warm clothing; mittens; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots. Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches. Learn safety precautions to follow when outdoors. Work slowly when doing outside chores. Take a buddy and an emergency kit when you are participating in outdoor recreation. Carry a cell phone. Be prepared to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards. If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.
No one can stop the onset of winter. However, if you follow these suggestions, you will be ready for it when it comes.