Everyone knows that when it is cold outside our bodies adjust and we put on additional layers of clothing. Likewise, when it is hot our bodies will sweat in order to provide evaporative cooling and we take off layers. However, the weather affects health in many other ways. People with arthritis, asthma, or those with migraines often find they can predict the weather based on how they are feeling. Both internal and external effects can be attributed to changes in the weather.
Cold Weather and Heart Attacks
When it is cold outside, our heart and lungs work harder. This extra effort can increase the likelihood of heart attack or stroke. It is especially important to be aware of any conditions that may weaken your heart and leave it unable to handle the extra exertion. Not surprisingly, shoveling snow is one of the most common activities leading to heart attacks during the winter.
Weather is one of the most common triggers for migraines. Some people are affected by too much cold, others by too much heat. For some, the migraines are due to a drop in barometric pressure or thunderstorms. Others are affected by a rise in humidity. Regardless of the exact weather trigger, migraine sufferers can usually tell you when the weather is about to change.
Asthma and Allergy Symptoms
People with asthma are also affected by changes in the weather. High pollen counts can trigger their symptoms. When the flowers and trees begin to bloom, many people with allergies and asthma welcome the spring rains that reduce the pollen floating around in the air. However, thunderstorms are a different story. Many times thunderstorms pick up pollen and increase pollen counts in the air
Winter Cold and Flu Season
Winter is known as cold and flu season. You are more likely to get a cold or flu during the winter than in the summer months. One of the reasons is that people tend to stay inside of their buildings and are in close contact with each other. This makes it easier for you to pick up a virus. In addition, our bodies have to work harder to stay warm, but this is a topic of debate because most now spend their days in temperature-controlled office buildings.
Winter Blues or SAD
Our bodies need sunlight to survive. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is depression that is a result of reduced hours of sunlight. Symptoms of this disorder include increased anxiety, irritability, depression, and weight gain. The symptoms vary in severity. People with pre-existing mood disorders are at increased risk for SAD in the winter. The recommended treatment for the condition includes using light bulbs that mimic sunlight.
Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
Heat exhaustion is the first stage of heatstroke. It is caused by a rise in core body temperature in hot conditions and is a result of your body’s inability to cope with the temperature increase. The symptoms include nausea, headache, excessive thirst, muscle cramps and aches, weakness, confusion, anxiety, and profuse sweating. Signs of heatstroke include many of the same symptoms, plus dizziness or vertigo, heart arrhythmias, and hot, dry skin. Both are treated by removing the person from the heat and cooling the body. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.
Muscle and Joint Injuries
Muscle and joint injuries tend to increase in the spring and summer because people who have been sitting around indoors for most of the winter decide to go out and resume physical activities without recognizing that they have lost some capability over the winter. The best remedy is to find ways to keep moving all winter long, or at least start slowly when you do begin again.
If you have high blood pressure, you may notice the numbers decrease as the weather gets warmer. Likewise, the body naturally increases blood pressure in the winter in an attempt to improve circulation and keep warm. In the winter, the diameter of the blood vessels decreases, causing the heart to work harder to pump blood. At this time of year, it is especially important to eat nutritionally dense foods, keep up with exercise, minimize salt and alcohol intake, and keep an eye on your blood pressure.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Anyone with arthritis will tell you that joint pain increases in cold weather because the lower temperatures cause the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to stiffen. This places extra pressure on the joints. Cold weather makes our bodies more prone to joint injuries, too.
Eczema tends to worsen in the cold, dry air of winter. However, heat and humidity can also trigger the symptoms. It is important to prevent your body from becoming overheated during the summer and from getting too cold in the winter. Keeping your skin moist will also help avoid outbreaks in either weather extreme.