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How to prevent common winter sickness & illnesses

Siski Green / 01 December 2015

Seasonal changes in temperature and weather can prove hazardous to your health. Find out which health issues you’re at higher risk of this winter.

Woman wrapped in blanket warming hands
Cold hands and feet are common with seasonal changes in temperature

1. Falls

It may be obvious that icy conditions would increase your risk of falls, but cold weather, even without ice, can trigger a stumble.

According to research from the National Institutes of Health in the USA, the increased risk of falls during winter is down to several factors: 

•    reduced circulation and sensation in toes and feet can make it more difficult to maintain balance

•    winter is also a time when many older adults do less exercise leading to muscle strength loss and lack of flexibility  

Find out how to reduce the risk of falls with our guide

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2. Sore throats, colds, and flu

Viruses love the winter months. Research from Yale University, US, found that low temperatures make your body’s natural immune defences fail, allowing the virus to flourish. This then causes the symptoms of runny or stuffed nose, sore throats, coughs, and the high temperatures and extreme fatigue of flu.

How to avoid a cold

How to treat a cold

3. Dry skin

Colder temperatures means less moisture in the air which can result in chapped, sore lips, dry, flaky skin and even eczema flare ups.  Central heating, which makes air even drier indoors, exacerbates the problem.

Problem skin? Find out what it's trying to tell you

4. Arthritis and painful joints

Research from the Northwestern University Feinberg Schoool of Medicine, USA, has found that when there are fewer daylight hours symptoms of arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteo) worsen. They found that this is at least partly because activity levels also fall when there are fewer daylight hours. 

Find out what you need to know about arthritis

5. Cold hands

In colder temperatures your blood vessels constrict a little which means less blood flowing to certain parts of your body.  As a result your extremities – your feet and hands – get cold, as well as the tip of your nose.  

Raynaud’s syndrome is a very rare circulatory disorder where blood vessels are narrowed briefly, often resulting in white fingertips. 

Find out more about health conditions that affect the hands

6. Asthma symptoms

According to Asthma UK, 75% of those diagnosed with asthma say that cold air triggers symptoms. Hospital admissions for asthma sufferers also peak during especially cold periods. 

Learn more about asthma

7. SAD/Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects one in six people in the UK, and around another one in five people also complain of suffering with ‘winter blues’.

Researchers from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology found that those who suffer with SAD regulate their levels of neurotransmitter serotonin differently to the rest of the population.

Sunlight helps us produce serotonin and so with reduced sunlight in winter, mood can be dramatically affected.

Read more about seasonal affective disorder, or SAD

8. Winter vomiting bug

Norovirus or winter vomiting bug as it’s more commonly known is more likely to hit you in winter months than summer, although you can catch it at any time. It’s very contagious and there are at least 25 strains of the bug. 

9. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Keeping windows and doors closed is key to retaining heat in your home, but if your gas heater or oven isn’t properly connected, that lack of air circulation could be fatal. If you feel dizzy, headachy or lightheaded, it could be that you are suffering with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Read more about carbon monoxide poisoning

10. Cold sore

Few people realise that extreme temperature changes, such as when you go from a warm house to wintry conditions outside or vice versa, can trigger a re-activation of the HSV-1 virus. 

11. Watery eyes

Running into someone you know while your eyes are leaking can be a little embarrassing – it can look as though you’re tearful when in reality it’s just another side effect of cold weather. 

Dry-eye syndrome affects 50% of those over 65 years old and is exacerbated by cold weather, specifically wind or central heating drying out your eyes. 

Although it’s called dry-eye syndrome, the eye actually produces more liquid in the form of tears but, because of the drying effect, this isn’t enough of a lubricant, causing the eye to then overcompensate with more tears. 

Five common eye problems and how to identify them

12. Allergies

Summer is usually seen as the season when allergies hit hardest but many of the same allergens – mould, dust mites, pet dander, for example – are actually more likely to trigger symptoms because you spend more time in enclosed spaces, indoors. 

According to researchers from the College of Wisconsin, USA, colder weather means we’re more likely to keep pets indoors leading to increase allergy risk, cold and damp spaces in backyards lead to mildew and mould also adding to allergy risk, and warm unaired rooms also allows dust mites to flourish.

Find out more about allergies and intolerances

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.