How to stay protected from 10 winter illnesses?
Winter has arrived, and along with it comes cold and flu season.
Some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat and cold sores, are triggered or worsened by cold weather. Here’s how to deal with cold weather ailments.
10 Winter Illnesses
You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys bugs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people, such as light switches and door handles.
Read this guide to how to wash your hands properly.
It’s also important to keep the house and any household items such as cups, glasses and towels clean, especially if someone in your house is ill.
Top tip: If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of fabric handkerchiefs to avoid constantly reinfecting your own hands.
2 Sore Throat
Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections.
There’s some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat.
Top tip: One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water.
It won’t heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect.
Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter.
Top tip: Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth.
Be extra vigilant about taking your regular medications, and keep reliever inhalers close by.
Flu can be a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are particularly at risk.
The best way to prevent getting flu is to have the flu jab (or flu nasal spray for children aged 2 to 17). The flu vaccine gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.
If you are over 65 or have a long term health condition, you are also eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which provides protection against pneumonia.
Top tip: Find out if you’re at risk of getting flu by asking your GP. If you’re in a high-risk group, see your GP to get the vaccination.
Unlike the other common winter illness, pneumonia is often caused by a bacterial infection. It can present in many different ways. Sometimes it starts as a cold that just continues to worsen, other times it will seem like your child was initially getting better when suddenly they will worsen again. If your child has had a cold for several days and suddenly develops a high fever and worsening cough, this could be a sign of pneumonia and you should bring your child in for evaluation. Any time you feel that your child is having trouble breathing you should seek prompt healthcare evaluation and pneumonia can quickly worsen. Most of the time pneumonia can be treated on an outpatient basis with antibiotics, but some children with more severe cases will require hospitalization.
6 Painful Joints
Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff in winter, though it’s not clear why this is the case. There’s no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.
Top tip: Many people get a little depressed during the winter months, and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions.
Daily exercise can boost a person’s mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it’s easy on the joints.
7 Cold Sores
Most of us recognise that cold sores are a sign that we’re run down or under stress. While there’s no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter.
Top tip: Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park, or watching one of your favourite films.
8 Heart Attacks
Heart attacks are more common in winter. This may be because cold weather increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to maintain body heat when it’s cold.
Top tip: Stay warm in your home. Heat the main rooms you use to at least 18C and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed.
Wrap up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.
9 Cold Hands and Feet
Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather.
Fingers can go white, then blue, then red, and throb and tingle. The small blood vessels of the hands and feet go into spasm, temporarily reducing blood flow to your hands and feet.
In severe cases, medication can help, but most people manage to live with their symptoms.
Top tip: Don’t smoke or drink caffeine (both can worsen symptoms) and always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.
10 Dry Skin
Dry skin is a common condition and is often worse during the winter, when environmental humidity is low.
Moisturising is essential during winter. Contrary to popular belief, moisturising lotions and creams aren’t absorbed by the skin. Instead, they act as a sealant to stop the skin’s natural moisture evaporating away.
The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist, and again at bedtime.
Top tip: Have warm, rather than hot, showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy.
Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
The illness is unpleasant, but it’s usually over within a few days.
Top tip: When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk.
By drinking oral rehydration fluids (available from pharmacies), you can reduce the risk of dehydration.