The brisk, crisp winter air can be a welcome relief from the sweltering humidity of the summer. However, if you don’t pay careful attention to this advice from your primary care physician, the weather can throw a wrench into your plans and have a devastating effect on your overall health.
Our Cary and Raleigh internists want you to be aware that cold weather can have a dramatic effect on your mind and body. It’s necessary to take precautions to reduce your risk of accidents, heart attacks and even depression.
We’ll take a look at the top 10 ways cold weather can affect your body.
1. Does Cold Weather Affect Your Joints?
Your uncle swears that his joints ache whenever it’s about to snow or when there’s a storm on the horizon. Is he right?
While evidence of the weather affecting joints is mostly anecdotal, some theorize that the barometric pressure can cause tissues to swell, putting a strain on joints.
What should you do? Any time you have chronic joint pain, you should speak with one of our primary care physicians.
We also have a board-certified sports medicine physician, Dr. Franklin. He’ll gladly help you determine what is at the heart of your joint issues, offering non-surgical evaluation and treatment.
2. Common Winter Accidents and Injuries
A slip on the ice isn’t good for anyone, particularly those with osteoporosis, a disease that causes brittle bones. In that case, one minor fall can cause serious problems such as a hip or knee fracture.Unsure about the health or strength of your bones? We suggest having a bone density scan.
This non-invasive test evaluates the strength of your bones. It takes less than 15 minutes and is vital to help your primary care physician treat osteoporosis or low bone mass early before problems occur.
Of course, the best-case scenario is to avoid falls before they happen.
Be sure to use shoes that have good, textured soles. Make sure you use the arm rail, even if you think it’s not needed.
3. Does Cold Weather the Immune System?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the weather itself that ignites colds and flu, but the fact that the uncomfortable weather often drives people indoors.
Because more time is spent inside, you’re more likely to come into close contact with those who are sick.
The solution is simple: Wash your hands often and get a flu shot.
If you haven’t had a flu shot yet, just stop by one of our offices to see one of our Cary or Raleigh internists.
If you’re sick, be sure to cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. If you have been diagnosed with a contagious illness like the flu, don’t try to “tough it out” and go to work. Your coworkers will appreciate if you leave your germs at home!
4. Can Cold Weather Give You A Heart Attack?
During cold weather, blood vessels can narrow in a process called vasoconstriction.
Narrow blood vessels can increase your risk of a heart attack, according to information from Harvard Medical School. When temperatures plummet, your risk of a heart attack or heart problems increases.
The key to keeping your heart as safe as possible is to always dress appropriately for the weather. This means using a warm hat, gloves and a coat.
Be wary of doing tasks that can overexert you, such as shoveling snow. You should also be careful when exercising outdoors in colder weather.
Check out our earlier article, “How to Stay Safe When Exercising in Cold Weather.”
5. What Causes Dry Skin in Winter?
Winter air is notorious for draining moisture from your skin. The cold, dry air causes the moisture on your skin to evaporate more quickly. Without this natural moisture, your skin feels unusually dry, tight and flaky.
Be sure to use a moisturizer regularly. Remember that those with an oil base are less likely to evaporate. Humidifiers can also help.
6. Hypothermia and Frost Bite
When most people think of hypothermia, they may envision long periods outdoors in record-breaking, freezing weather.
In actuality, even mild cold can cause hypothermia or frostbite, especially in older adults.
The older you are, the greater your risk of hypothermia. In fact, if the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it can affect your kidneys, liver and heart.
According to the Centers for Disease Control those who are most susceptible to hypothermia include:
- Older adults
- Those with inadequate heating
- Babies in cold bedrooms
- Anyone outside for long periods of time
- Those who drink alcohol
Signs of hypothermia are:
- Slurred speech
- Extreme drowsiness
- Loss of memory
- Fumbling hands
7. Does Winter Weather Affect Mental Health?
The change in seasons does impact your mental health.
Everyone’s body has a natural sleep/wake cycle that serves as an internal clock. This is called the circadian rhythm, and it also controls mood.
The early darkness in the winter, combined with the fact that the sky gets bright later in the morning, affects your circadian rhythm, your brain chemistry, and as a result, your mood, according to information from Cleveland Clinic.
Add to this the fact that winter holidays often have us stressed from running errands and interrupting our regular schedule, and the stage is set for depression or other mental health issues.
While almost everyone can relate to the “winter blues,” many have a more serious form of depression called seasonal affective disorder.
According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to sunlight, or to specific types of indoor lamps, can help.
As Cary and Raleigh internists, we specialize in treating the entire body, including how all the systems interact. If you’ve been experiencing depression through the winter months, we want to know about it. We can work with you to craft a treatment plan to help.
8. Can Cold Cause Asthma?
Cold, dry air can irritate and narrow airways. As a result, it can trigger an asthma attack.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, this happens when you breathe in cold air through your mouth instead of your nose.
One of the main functions of your nose is to warm air before it reaches your lungs. If you exercise or if you’re working outside shoveling snow or putting up Christmas lights, you’re more likely to breathe through your mouth.
If you or your child has asthma, follow these tips:
- Be sure to wear a face mask or scarf to cover your mouth.
- Consider exercising indoors for this time of year.
- Be sure to have your inhaler close at hand.
- Check with your primary care physician about cold weather asthma triggers.
9. How Does the Cold Impact Raynaud’s Disease?
If you have this disease, the cold weather is likely to make things a lot worse for you.
Raynaud’s disease occurs when certain areas of your body—particularly the extremities like fingers and toes—feel numb and cold, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.
It’s more common among women than men, and cold weather and stress seem to agitate the condition.
10. Is it Bad to Be More Sedentary in Winter?
There’s something about the cold, dark days that just make you want to curl up with a warm blanket and a good book. While this is okay on occasion, you shouldn’t let the change of weather cause a sedentary lifestyle.
Being sedentary can have effects on your health, including weight gain, which can put you at risk for conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and other conditions.
It’s important to maintain an exercise routine, but it’s probably best if you choose indoor activities, since exercising outdoors can bring about health concerns of its own. (See number four above.)
WE WANT TO BE YOUR PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIANS
As your Cary and Raleigh internists, we’re about being patient-centered. In fact, we’ve been recognized as a Patient-Centered Medical Home by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
Through this system, our health care professionals work together as one team to provide extensive health care services to meet all of your health care needs. This team includes not only doctors and nurses but nutritionists and health educators. We would welcome the opportunity to be your patient-centered medical home. Contact us today for an appointment.