Cool, refreshing air, freshly fallen snow, crisp days and cosy nights by a crackling fire, freedom from the sweat and grime of summer—winter is a welcome time of the year. It’s the time when celebrations [and the chill] are in the air. However, not everyone welcomes the season with as much gusto. In fact, for people with certain illnesses, it is a dreaded time. That’s because like every good thing, winter too has its shortcomings. Let’s look at some of the common health problems faced during winter.
Effect on skin
Depending on harshness of the weather, skin problems range from simple dryness to more serious problems like frostbite. If your skin is exposed to cold and wet conditions for long, it can develop ‘chilblains’ [ulcers affecting the extremities] on rapid warming. This happens because of rush of blood to the heat-dilated blood vessels near the skin’s surface. The swollen blood vessel ruptures and the fluid leaks out into the surrounding tissues causing swelling, itching and pain. To avoid chilblains, keep the damaged skin dry and warm. If you have dry and scaly skin or psoriasis, you probably dread winter. Start hydrating and moisturising before your skin worsens.
For some of us, winter spells bad hair days—dandruff, dry scalp, dull hair and hair fall. A simple way to keep these problems at bay is to avoid washing hair with hot water. Bathing with piping hot water dries up your scalp and hair. Use lukewarm water instead. Also, oil your hair frequently to keep them lustrous and bouncy.
Respiratory infections like cold, sore throat, chest infections and pneumonia are common in this season. Exposure to cold weather suppresses the immune response, making it harder to fight infections. The dry air increases the risk of infections because most cold-causing viruses survive better in low humidity environments. Cold weather may dry out the inside lining of the nose, making it easy for germs to enter. Using heating devices without humidification further dries out the nose and eyes. So, use a heater with a humidifier. If yours does not have one, keep a bucket or a basin filled with water in a corner of the room. When the water evaporates, it lends the required moisture to the air.
In winter, we tend to stay indoors, thus increasing the likelihood of spreading infections. People suffering from diabetes, asthma, heart disease and those on steroids or medications that suppress the immune system are particularly vulnerable. Patients belonging to these groups should receive vaccination against Pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza just as winter starts. Stay away from infected people, wash your hands frequently and keep your hands away from your eyes and nose. Clean all surfaces with a disinfectant to clear them of bacteria and viruses.
Those with high blood pressure need constant monitoring. Cold climates subject the body to stress, which may lead to an increase in blood pressure, especially in the elderly. This occurs due to the activation of sympathetic nervous system and consequent release of stress hormone ‘catecholamine’ in response to the stress of cold weather. This affects both systolic [top] and diastolic [bottom] blood pressure.
Statistics show that all hospitals receive more admissions for heart attacks and heart failure in the cold months. It could be because of stress due to parties, late nights, and extra exercise to burn off calories from feasting. The reduced daylight leads to reduced vitamin D levels and heart attacks are more frequent in people with low vitamin D. Even flu makes a person vulnerable to heart attacks. Some of these causes can be avoided. For instance, you can wear a mask or breathe through a scarf when outdoors. Heart patients should take extra care to keep warm. If you take morning walks, postpone them till the sun is up, or choose another time of the day for your walk.
All rheumatologic conditions worsen in winter. Those with these illnesses may feel stiffer in the mornings and may take longer to loosen up joints and get going. In addition to regular medicines, keep warm—use heating devices in the house, pre-heat the car before getting in, heat clothes before dressing, cover yourself up from head to toe with layers of clothing and drink hot beverages. Wear mittens instead of gloves and keep the joints mobile.
Winter is a time for covering up and staying indoors but that also means no sunshine and less vitamin D. That also implies low levels of calcium, because calcium is absorbed from our intestines with the help of vitamin D. In the last few years, the cases of vitamin D deficiencies have increased alarmingly in India, a country that has reasonable amount of sunlight through the year. Perhaps, it’s a result of using too much sunscreen and lack of time in the open. So, a 10-minute exposure to sunlight every day is a must [without risking damage to the skin, of course].
Asthmatics may experience worsening of their problem due to constriction of the air passages induced by cold temperature. Chest infections also compound. Avoid going out when the winter is harsh and keep inhalers and medications handy at all times.
- Eating high-calorie foods like ghee and butter during winter doesn’t help you keep warm; it only leads to additional kilos by the end of the season.
- Drinking excessive tea and coffee isn’t healthy. Replace caffeine-based drinks with vegetable soups, broths, stews and juices.
- Reducing your water intake is not required during winter; it leads to dehydration. Drink enough water.
- Eating dry fruits like almonds, walnuts and raisins provides good nutrition, provided they are eaten in moderation.
Winters are fog time, which severely impairs visibility on the roads, leading to accidents. Moreover, there is a delay in shifting the injured to hospitals as the reduced visibility compromises speed of rescue vehicles.
Install fog lights on your car before winter starts. The least you can do is to stick yellow transparent paper on the headlights of the car as yellow light can penetrate
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