When people talk about cold and flu season, they mean winter. Science backs up the long-observed connection between cold weather and getting sick, attributing it to our tendency to remain huddled up inside together, where germs and viruses can easily jump from one person to the next.
But some people suffer through those months in other ways. A few conditions worsen when temperatures dip, leading to achiness, itchiness or discomfort. Understanding the causes can help you take preventive measures.
Here are a few conditions that get worse in winter and what to do about them:
Psoriasis and eczema
These conditions, characterized by itchy, scaly patches of skin, worsen due to:
- Dry air outside
- Heating systems that remove moisture from air inside
- Hot baths or showers, and
- Getting little to no sun exposure on the skin.
The sun’s rays spur the body to produce vitamin D, which the skin needs to stay healthy.
Basic winter skincare applies:
- Add moisture where you can — ointment or lotion for skin and humidifier for air indoors.
- Avoid drying out the protective oils on your skin by taking warm, not hot showers, and patting your skin dry instead of rubbing it.
Tame itchy skin with a lukewarm oatmeal bath.
During an asthma attack, a person’s airways get inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Cold weather can cause airways to narrow, while rain and wind stir up allergens that may trigger an asthma episode.
- Take precautions when exercising. A good warm-up can help you avoid symptoms, and if it is bitterly cold, exercise indoors rather than outside where you would be gulping dry, cold air.
- Breathe through your nose when outdoors, or cover your nose and mouth with a scarf to warm and humidify the air you breathe.
Be diligent about taking prescribed medications and see your doctor if symptoms worsen.
Pollen isn’t the only culprit when it comes to sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes. Mold, dust and pet dander cause allergic reactions, and spending more time indoors increases the likelihood of exposure.
- Replace the filters in your heating system before you turn on the heat. Starting up the system turns on a fan that will spread the accumulated dust, pet hair and other small particles of fluff through your home.
- Prevent mold by wiping down damp areas in the kitchen and bathroom, and turning on an exhaust fan when showering.
- Dust furniture and vacuum regularly.
- Clean sheets and bedding in hot water to kill dust mites.
Antihistamines treat sneezing, sniffles and itching and decongestants relieve congestion. You can also try these natural allergy remedies.
While there’s no scientific explanation, many people with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis find their joint pain gets worse in cold, wet weather. One theory is that changes in barometric pressure cause tendons to contract and expand, thought it may be as simple as a lower activity rate that happens when it’s cold out.
- Get moving. If you can, go swimming in a heated pool. The warmth of the water may soothe pain while the activity keeps joints from getting stiff.
- Bundle up. Wear layers of clothing, throw an extra blanket on the bed, and don’t go outside without warm gloves, a hat and a scarf.
- Schedule regular massages.
- Take medications as directed by your doctor.