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December 28, 2018

Staying Healthy During Winter

Staying Healthy During Winter

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Some health complaints are triggered—or worsened—by cold weather. Here’s a breakdown of the most common winter illnesses and advice on how to avoid them

Along with frost, snow and colder weather, winter also brings with it an uptick of illnesses as the year comes to a close. Colds, sore throats and chesty coughs are more likely to strike at this time of year—read on for a list of the most common winter ailments and how to spot them and send them packing. 

Asthma

Cold weather is a major trigger for asthma and symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. The NHS advises sufferers to be especially vigilant of their condition in winter. 

Top tip

Stay indoors on extremely cold days or wear a loose scarf over your nose and mouth if venturing into the cold air. Remember to take any medication as prescribed by your doctor.

Flu

People aged 65 and over, pregnant women and individuals with chronic conditions—such as COPD and kidney disease—are particularly at risk of developing flu. The condition is a major killer of vulnerable people. Some symptoms include fever, aching muscles, fatigue, nasal congestion and chills. 

Top tip

The best way to avoid the flu is to have the flu jab—an immunisation that gives good protection for a year. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you’re eligible for one on the NHS.

Norovirus

More commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus can actually occur all year round. It is most widespread in places such as hotels, hospitals, schools and nursing homes. The unpleasant illness can last a few days and bring about symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, headache, high temperature and aching joints.

Top tip

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. As norovirus is extremely infectious, take all necessary precautions to keep the bug from spreading. These could include avoiding close contact with people affected by norovirus and touching infected surfaces. Wash your hands regularly.

Sore throat

Almost always caused by a viral infection, sore throats are a very common occurrence in winter. NHS Choices suggests there is evidence that dramatic changes in temperature—brought about by the changing of the seasons as well as going from a heated room to the icy outdoors—can provoke this ailment. 

Top tip

An easy home remedy is to gargle with warm, salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water. Although it won’t completely cure the discomfort, the liquid will soothe the throat with its anti-inflammatory properties.

Cold hands & feet

A condition that causes the fingers and toes to throb, tingle and turn white, blue and red, Raynaud’s phenomenon can cause the body’s extremities to become very painful. Raynaud’s makes the blood vessels in the hands and feet go into spasm, temporarily reducing blood flow to the affected areas. 

Top tip

While the most severe cases of Raynaud’s phenomenon may require medication, there are simple precautions that can help alleviate symptoms. Don’t smoke or drink caffeine and make sure to always wear gloves, socks and shoes when going out in the cold. 

Dry skin

When cold weather strikes, environmental humidity is low. This is why dry skin is especially common in the winter. Moisturising is imperative, though it must be done at the right time of the day. As moisturisers simply act as a sealant to stop the skin’s natural moisture from evaporating, these are better off applied after a bath or shower, when the skin is still moist. For best results, moisturise again at bedtime. 

Top tip

NHS Choices advises to have warm—not hot—showers and baths. This is because water that is too hot may make skin feel more dry and itchy.

Cold

A very common health complaint during winter, a cold can cause debilitating symptoms including body aches, fever, cough, malaise and congestion. Fight it by washing your hands frequently and keeping household items—such as towels and cups—clean to avoid germs from spreading.

Top tip

Consume a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system working as it should. Make sure to use disposable tissues instead of fabric ones to keep germs at bay and avoid constantly infecting your own hands.

Joint pain

Although it’s still unclear how and why cold weather affects the joints, arthritis sufferers maintain their symptoms get worse when winter comes around. According to NHS Choices, certain ailments appear worse during the winter, including joint pain. Many people get lonely and depressed during the winter, which can make them react to pain and ill health more acutely. 

Top tip

Engage in daily exercise to improve joint movement and relieve pain. In addition to promoting physical health, exercise also does wonders for our mental wellbeing. Swimming is an ideal pastime for relieving joint pain.

This article was originally published in Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones. Read the digitial edition, here.