Old Man Winter decided to take off his hat and stay a spell. Now, you’re feeling under the weather. You might think it’s all in your head, but science tells a different tale. Specific health conditions do grow worse when the days get shorter.
How does the wintertime exacerbate particular disorders? More importantly, what steps can you take to cope? Read on to discover what you can do to alleviate seasonal symptoms.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real disease that deserves an independent mention. Approximately half a million Americans have it, while others get milder winter blues. However, if you struggle with depression all year long, you may find your symptoms increase in the winter.
Why? Much of your increased discomfort likely has to do with light levels. When the sun only shines for a limited time daily, it impacts your levels of neurotransmitters.
You may benefit from investing in a special light to recreate the effects of the sun’s rays. If possible, try to move your work desk nearer to a window or skylight. Keep to a regular schedule and find an accountability partner to help you get out of bed on those days when it all seems too much.
2. Colds and Flu
They say that summertime colds are the worst, but that old wives’ tale only exists because no one wants to feel sick when it’s pleasant and sunny outside!
Your immune system has to work considerably harder when it’s cold. For example, the rhinovirus that causes the common cold multiplies better at 91 degrees Fahrenheit than the body’s usual 98.6 degrees. When cooler air enters your nasal passages, your immune system can’t fight off the onslaught of viruses. Colder temperatures also drive people to congregate indoors – winter is the season of celebrations for a reason – and closer contact enables germs to spread.
3. Chronic Pain
If you have chronic pain, you may find that your symptoms grow worse this time of year. Uneven, icy sidewalks can do a number on your feet even if you don’t take a tumble, for example. Plantar fasciitis affects nearly 1 million people annually in the United States, and sudden twists can cause increased pain.
People with back or neck pain often find their symptoms growing worse in the wintertime, too. Cold weather causes your muscles to contract, which can lead to painful spasms. Joints also decrease in range of motion, making it easier for pinched nerves to develop. When this constriction happens along the spinal column, the pain can radiate down one or both legs.
There are several types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the connective tissue between the joints wears down over time, usually after the age of 40. Rheumatoid arthritis results from a type of autoimmune disorder that compels the body to attack healthy tissue in the joints. Either form may grow more severe when the weather gets cold.
Scientists aren’t sure why the cold exacerbates arthritis. Some researchers believe that barometric pressure changes cause joints to expand, resulting in pain. Others believe dropping temperatures change the consistency of the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints.
5. Skin Conditions
If you have psoriasis, you may find that you experience more widespread flares during the cold season. Dry indoor air coupled with harsh outdoor winds can wreak havoc on your skin. Keep a supply of your favourite moisturiser handy and apply it liberally throughout the day. You might also consider investing in a humidifier.
You’re not crazy if you think you get more zits in the wintertime, either. Cold weather prompts your skin to produce more sebum, an oily substance that naturally moisturises it. However, excess sebum can result in breakouts. Use over-the-counter acne remedies or talk to your dermatologist if breakouts grow severe.
6. Lung Conditions
People with asthma often need to keep their inhalers handy during the winter. The dry air can irritate the linings of your respiratory tract, causing them to contract. If you have any other type of chronic lung condition, you might find it harder to breathe this time of year, too. If you have COPD, stay away from people with colds and flu. You risk developing pneumonia if you get an infection.
7. Autoimmune Diseases
Finally, cold weather places additional stress on your body. When you have an autoimmune disorder, an increase in pressure can lead to painful flares. If you have multiple sclerosis or lupus, take all medications as prescribed. Strive to stay out of extreme temperatures as much as possible. Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot if you haven’t already. Infections can also exacerbate flares.
Coping With Wintertime Symptoms
It’s not in your head – the cold does make symptoms worse in many cases. If you have one of the conditions listed above, consider discussing an action plan with your doctor to prepare for any new discomfort you may experience. And by all means, show yourself some extra TLC when the days grow shorter!