Burke Primary Care will be closed Monday 5/27 for Memorial Day

10 Winter Health Risks

Jan. 31, 2012, midnight

Here's how to help your body deal with cold weather ailments.

Colds

You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys germs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people.

Top tip: If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of cloth handkerchiefs to avoid constantly re-infecting 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.

Top tip: One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. It won’t heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of partly-cooled boiled water.

Asthma

Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter.

Top tip: Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf over your nose and mouth. Be extra vigilant about taking your regular medications, and keep rescue inhalers close by and in a warm place.

Norovirus

Norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It is more common in winter and in places such as hotels and schools. The illness is unpleasant but it’s usually over within a couple of days.

Top tip: When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Painful Joints

Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful in winter. Only joint symptoms, such as pain and stiffness, are affected by the weather. There’s no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.

Top tip: 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 recognize 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.

Top tip: 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 snaps increase blood pressure and put more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to maintain body heat when it’s cold.

Top tip: Stay warm in your home. Keep the main rooms you use at 21C (70F) and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed.

Cold Hands

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change color and become very painful in cold weather. Fingers can go white, then blue, then red and throb and tingle. It’s a sign of poor circulation in the small blood vessels of the hands and feet. In severe cases, medication can help, but most people live with their symptoms.

Top tip: Don’t smoke or drink caffeine (they can both 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 humidity is low. Moisturizing is essential during winter. The best time to apply moisturizer is after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist, and again at bedtime.

Top tip: Have warm rather than hot showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy. Hot water will also make your hair look dull and dry.

Flu

Flu is a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over and people with long-term health conditions are particularly at risk. The best way to prevent getting flu is to have the flu shot. It gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.

Top tip: Find out if you’re at risk of getting flu by asking your GP.


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