Cold weather can trigger some nasty illnesses, making winter a difficult time of the year for many. More often than not, you’ll hear people calling it “that time of year,” making sure their loved ones are bundled up and getting plenty of Vitamin C to protect them from the maladies that plague us during the coldest months. But what are the most common winter illnesses, and what can we do to protect ourselves from them?
What Illnesses are Caused by Cold Weather?
The flu is easily one of the most common and most temporarily debilitating illnesses that tend to surface around wintertime each year. One of the most frustrating things about the flu is that it’s constantly evolving and adapting. Each flu strain is never the same as it was the previous year and is therefore impossible to completely inoculate yourself against. The most common symptoms of the flu are:
- Fever and chills
- Sore throat
- Runny Nose
- Body/Joint aches
These symptoms can last for a few days up to two weeks, though people who already have compromised immune systems may find themselves taking longer to recover. It’s also possible to get additional infections and even pneumonia while suffering from the flu, so prevention is the best way to approach this threat. Get your flu vaccination every year either by injection or (for children) nasal spray, and try to avoid being around others with the flu if at all possible.
Conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as “pink eye,” occurs whenever a virus, bacteria, or other irritant manages to infect the sclera (or whites) of the eye, causing inflammation and irritation. Bacterial and viral infections causing pink eye can be extremely contagious, which is one of the reasons why conjunctivitis is especially common during winter when other infections are running rampant.
The Common Cold
The dry, cold climate of winter is when rhinovirus, the primary culprit in common colds, is at its peak. Stuffy noses, itchy and sore throats, and general congestion can make your days much less tolerable, but a cold is typically not nearly as debilitating as the flu can be. Find a remedy for your congestion that works (teas, humidifiers, saline rinses, or medical decongestants), drink plenty of fluids, and get enough rest so your body can recover.
These unpleasant, often painful sores on our lips are often signs of stress and exhaustion, which are high risks during the wintertime thanks to extreme temperatures and other illnesses. Even seasonal depression can add to our chances of getting a cold sore. Since there’s no cure for these pesky things, the best thing you can do for yourself is to drink plenty of water and do the best you can to manage your stress levels.
Strep throat is the bacterial and often much more painful version of a sore throat. If it feels like every swallow is sending lava and needles down your esophagus, it may be worth getting tested to see if a bacterial infection is present. If so, that indicates that it’s strep rather than simple pharyngitis, and you’ll need to go on antibiotics in order to kill off the harmful bacteria.
If you’ve ever had a series of a few days where you were suffering from uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea but were completely find afterward, it’s highly likely that you had contracted the norovirus. It originates from contaminated food or water, but it’s extremely contagious, and it thrives during the winter when large crowds of people are spending time together for the holidays. The easiest way to protect yourself from this virus is to keep your hands clean and be careful about the food you eat. Limit skin-to-skin contact as much as is possible and wash your hands frequently.
A migraine can strike during any time of the year, but extremely cold temperatures can dramatically increase the pain levels of a person’s migraines and instigate them more frequently. Staying bundled up whenever exposed to the cold may help.
Christmas Tree Syndrome
Also known as “Hay Fever” year-round, Christmas Tree Syndrome is a version of environmental allergies that strikes during the holiday season when dry air combines with pine tree pollen, molds, and dust all collecting on a certain recognizable holiday tree in your home. If you’re prone to environmental allergies, you might want to either consider not using a Christmas Tree or investing in an air cleaner and humidifier for your home as well.
Bronchitis, Asthma, and Pneumonia
Often instigated by a cold or flu, bronchitis occurs when your airways (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and irritated, making it difficult to breathe without painful coughs. Chest congestion is a common side effect, and you may find yourself coughing up some phlegm. This can be especially rough on people who suffer from asthma, who already have a harder time during the winter thanks to the cold, dry air irritating their airways.
Pneumonia is even worse, combining the symptoms of bronchitis and asthma with actual fluid filling the air sacs in your lungs. If you’re experiencing more difficulty breathing than feels tolerable, you should be seen immediately. Hospitalization may be necessary in some cases.
Ear infections can be another side effect of the common cold or flu, stemming from a build-up of fluid within the ear canals. This can feel like pressure in one or both ears, pain, and even loss of balance in severe cases. If you’re experiencing these symptoms and feel like there may be a bunch of fluid in your ears, ask your doctor if a burst of antibiotics might help.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common kind of depression that overtakes people during the shorter, colder, darker days of winter. Because of the variety of physical and behavioral effects it can have on a person, it’s important to communicate with loved ones and your doctor if you think you’re suffering from SAD.
Sudden cold temperatures can cause changes in barometric pressure, which attributes to various types of joint pain, making winter a difficult time of year for those who regularly suffer from arthritis or joint injuries. Combat this pain with heating pads, hot baths, and anything else that soothes the affected area.
This is another type of infection that is often correlated with other sicknesses such as the cold or flu. When fluid gets stuck in your sinuses, it can cause an incredibly unpleasant infection that feels like painful pressure in the face. If the infection is bacterial, antibiotics may be needed in order to clear it up.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a dangerous but very commonplace gas that is emitted from certain fuel-burning objects like stoves, fireplaces, and other appliances used to heat your home in the coldest months during the year. Always be mindful of the signs: dizziness, pain in your chest, vomiting, and headaches. If you’re experiencing these symptoms and don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, turn off any heating appliances if you can, but leave the house as quickly as possible until it can be inspected. Do not lay down to try and sleep it off.
The cold can cause your blood vessels to narrow more than usually would, which makes winter a dangerous time of year for those with clogged vessels and arteries. Make sure to keep warm at all times to try and avoid any issues with your blood vessels. Additionally, those with weak hearts already may find themselves at more risk from common viruses than others, so try to stay away from those you know are infected with something.
While not a life-threatening malady, dry skin can be extremely frustrating and painful. The cold, dry air of winter can cause dryness, itching, cracking, and bleeding in the skin. Keep the dryer parts of your body well-moisturized if you can. This will also help to keep bacteria from being able to enter your bloodstream through an open wound.
Croup is a sickness in children that results in a barking cough thanks to swelling and inflammation around the vocal cords, through the airway, and into the lungs. Typically, croup isn’t very serious and may resolve on its own. In more serious cases, you may want to give the child steroids to reduce inflammation. In the worst cases, epinephrine may be administrated as a more aggressive way to open the airways.
What are the Symptoms of the Latest Virus?
Some of the most common symptoms of winter viruses are:
- Runny nose and congestion
- Post-Nasal Drip
- Sore Throat
- Inflamed airways
- Sinus pressure
These symptoms can be the result of multiple different illnesses and combine in different ways. If you’re experiencing these symptoms in ways that prevent you from going about your daily life, or if you think you might be contagious, see your doctor about treatment as soon as you can.
Why is Sickness More Common in Winter?
Dry air, cold air, abrupt changes in weather, and proximity to large crowds of other people are all major contributors to winter illnesses. The best way to keep yourself healthy is to wash your hands on a regular basis, keep yourself warm whenever possible, drink plenty of water and fluids, and get enough rest. Increasing your Vitamin C intake may help as well.
Does a Cold House Make You Sick?
Since cold air is one of the major factors in causing winter illnesses, living in a cold house can absolutely contribute to you contracting a sickness. If you’re having issues with central heating in your home during the cold winter months, investing in a cheap space heater can go a long way toward keeping viruses and bacterial infections at bay. The most common illnesses during winter can be avoided altogether if you keep yourself clean, hydrated, and warm.
Do you or someone in your family need a primary care physician in the Beaumont area? Give us a call at 409-899-2500 or visit Beaumont Dermatology & Family Practice and take a look at some of the services we provide.