Winter is coming! It’s a time to make memories with family, enjoy holiday parties with friends, bundle up by the fire, sip hot cocoa. And maybe sneeze, blow your nose, visit the doctor, suck on a cough drop, and have skin like a White Walker.
Why do our bodies seem to fall apart in winter?
A study published in Nature Communications attributes it to our changing genes. The study concludes that “roughly 25% of all the chunks of DNA that code for various behaviors and traits in our bodies, otherwise known as genes, shift significantly with the seasons.” (Influenza viruses also peak in winter.) The best thing you can do is get prepared for some of the illnesses you and your family might face during the cold months. Here, from the Remedy, are 20 of the most common winter diseases you should look out for this season.
The Common Cold
The Common Cold
The winter time is synonymous with common colds because they usually run rampant during these colder months. According to Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, “with the dry climate and colder temperatures, the rhinovirus—the bug that’s the most common cause of the cold—tends to thrive.” While colds are annoying and can make you feel groggy and sluggish, you can usually complete regular activities as usual.
The Remedy Rx: The best way to prevent a common cold is to stop the spread of germs. Wash your hands frequently. If a family member is sick with a cold, don’t share dishware and wipe down surfaces inside the home, including light switches and countertops, with disinfectant frequently. If you do get a cold, consider taking decongestants and rest as needed. You can also use saline rinses or a humidifier to open up your stuffy nose.
A sore throat in the winter can be caused by irritation from the dry and cold air. You could also experience a sore throat if you’re exposed to the outside cold air, then inside warm air frequently. The quick and constant change in air temperature can make your throat feel raw. If you’re waking up every morning with a sore throat due to the dry air, winter can feel like a long and brutal season.
The Remedy Rx: The best way to remedy a constant sore throat in the colder months is to humidify that dry air. Dr. Martin Trott MD, MD, FACS, from St. John’s Medical Center says, “I would tell people that if they’re very dry every morning, it’s a good idea, at least in the bedroom, to get a humidifier and run the humidifier all the time with the bedroom door closed.”
Since winter is a time for gathering, you’ll probably be doing a lot of touching and talking with large groups. Norovirus is an extremely contagious food-borne illness that’s spread through contaminated food and surfaces. With all the winter socialization that occurs, it’s no wonder this disease is much more common in winter.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “If you get norovirus illness, you can shed billions of norovirus particles that you can’t see without a microscope. Only a few norovirus particles can make other people sick.”
The Remedy Rx: While there are no vaccines to prevent norovirus, you can try to avoid it this season by thoroughly washing your hands frequently, especially after eating or preparing food. Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home and be sure your laundry is washed thoroughly, especially if a family member already has norovirus.
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If you suffer from arthritis, you may find your painful and achy joints get worse in the colder months. And you’re not alone. A study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders examined participants with osteoarthritis (OA) and found that 67% of them were weather-sensitive and felt more joint pain in cold temps. This may be due to changes in barometric pressure that occur when cold air begins to move in.
The Remedy Rx: Unfortunately, there’s no way to completely hide from the cold in the winter months. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you can lessen joint pain by staying active through exercise and by managing your weight. Continue taking prescribed medications, stay positive throughout the season, and don’t smoke.
Raynaud’s disease is a rare disorder that causes your fingers or toes to change colors and lose feeling when exposed to cold air. This condition can be uncomfortable and long exposure to cold weather can cause the symptoms to be severe, causing painful throbbing and spasms as blood flow to the extremities is reduced.
The Remedy Rx: While Raynaud’s disease is a nuisance, the Mayo Clinic confirms, “For most people, Raynaud’s disease isn’t disabling, but it can affect your quality of life.” To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, bundle up in the cold, especially your hands and feet. Wear thick socks, gloves, ear muffs, and a face mask. Try to avoid prolonged outdoor activities in the winter.
A cold sore is a small blister or group of blisters that can develop on the lips or around the mouth. These sores can be painful and annoying and may be even worse in the winter months due to a compromised immune system. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “More than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores.” Strong sunlight or another illness, such as a cold, can cause cold sores to flare up. They can also be caused by stress, sleep deprivation, or hormonal changes.
The Remedy Rx: Get plenty of rest and try to eliminate stress during the holiday season as much as possible. Keep your lips moisturized and if you have a cold sore, use a topical treatment to clear it up faster.
The flu is a viral respiratory illness that has symptoms similar to the common cold, such as a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and sinus pressure. However, the flu is also usually accompanied by a fever, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, headache, or cold sweats. While you can catch the flu year round, it’s more prominent in the fall and winter months. According to a study conducted by the CDC, flu season “most often peaked in February, followed by December, January, and March.”
The Remedy Rx: The flu is highly contagious, so stay away from friends or family members who have it. A flu vaccine from your local pharmacist may prevent you from contracting it this winter. If you do catch the flu, isolate yourself from family members and consider visiting your doctor to get an antiviral medication so you can shorten the duration of your illness.
According to the CDC, “Strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus.” It can be tough to distinguish a simple sore throat, which doesn’t need treatment, from strep throat, which requires antibiotics. However, according to Dr. Long Gillespie, you’ll know you have strep throat because you’ll “have a sharp pain in your throat that feels like swallowing knives every time you have to swallow.”
The Remedy Rx: You can try to avoid strep throat by keeping your hands clean and staying clear of friends of family members who have this contagious illness. If you think you may have strep throat, get to your doctor right away. You’ll need to complete a round of antibiotics to lessen the symptoms, prevent the bacteria from spreading to others, and to eventually nix the illness completely.
Dry and Cracking Skin
Dry and Cracking Skin
Since environmental humidity is low in the winter, it’s more likely that you’ll experience dry and cracking skin. This condition is most common on your hands and feet or other extremities that may be exposed to the elements. If your skin cracking is severe or starts to bleed, it can be extremely painful and may even lead to infection.
The Remedy Rx: According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor for your dry and cracked skin if it develops open sores or redness or you have trouble sleeping due to the severity of your condition. To prevent or remedy your dry skin, keep it moisturized and avoid extremely hot showers or exposure to hot water. Cover your skin as much as possible in the cold weather.
Asthma is a condition that blocks your airways and makes it hard to breathe. Winter time can make the symptoms of asthma worse because the cold and dry air irritates your passageways. This causes your muscles to spasm, so it’s harder to control the loss of breath, even with your inhaler or prescription medication.
The Remedy Rx: To keep asthma symptoms at bay, limit your time outdoors and engaging in vigorous outdoor activities. Wear a scarf when you do go in the cold and talk to your doctor about seasonal changes in your condition. Dr. Emily Pennington, MD from the Cleveland Clinic, says to “make sure you have your asthma action plan in place. That way, if you do get sick, you know what to do before your symptoms get really severe.”
According to the CDC, if you have a weakened immune system from a prior illness, seasonal allergies, problems with your sinuses, or if you’re a smoker, you’re more susceptible to sinus infections. Since the winter time brings on more colds and illnesses, these infections are more common in the colder months. Symptoms of a sinus infection include a runny or stuffy nose, headache, pain or pressure in the face, post-nasal drip, a sore throat, or a cough.
The Remedy Rx: The CDC recommends seeing a doctor if your symptoms persist for longer than 10 days, you experience severe symptoms, or you have a fever that lasts longer than three days. You can relieve sinus pain on your own by placing a warm compress on your face, using a decongestant, or breathing in steam from a hot shower.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can kill you if you breathe it in for too long in an unventilated environment. Winter is the time to watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning because this gas can be released by faulty heating systems or gas-powered appliances. According to the CDC, “Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.”
The Remedy Rx: Install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home near appliances that use gas. Set a reminder to replace the batteries twice a year and replace your detector every five years. Be sure gas appliances are installed in well-ventilated areas and have regular maintenance performed on your heating system.
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Ear infections usually don’t come about on their own and may appear after you suffer from a seasonal cold, flu, or other illness. An ear infection is a buildup of fluid in the ear and symptoms include ear pain, fluid dripping from the ear, or trouble hearing.
The Remedy Rx: According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor for your ear infection if symptoms last more than a day or you’re suffering from severe ear pain. The best way to prevent an ear infection this season is to not get a cold or other illness. You can try to prevent these illnesses by eating healthy, exercising, keeping hands and surfaces clean, and limiting exposure to other people who may be sick.
The Mayo Clinic defines bronchitis as “an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs.” Acute bronchitis usually develops as the result of another cold or illness, while chronic bronchitis is much more serious and can develop on its own. You may have bronchitis if you can’t stop coughing, have an overproduction of mucus, feel tired, experience shortness of breath, or have discomfort in your chest.
The Remedy Rx: You should see a doctor if your symptoms are accompanied by a fever, they persist after three weeks, or they’re so severe you have trouble sleeping or breathing. Air pollution or cigarette smoke can cause bronchitis, so try to stay away from these substances. Since bronchitis is usually caused by another illness, get your flu vaccine and try to stay away from others who have colds or other illnesses.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs which can cause persistent dry cough, muscle aches, and fatigue. According to Harvard Health Publishing, “The vast majority of cases are due to airborne microbes, usually bacteria or viruses.” Since bacteria and viruses are more abundant in winter, cases of pneumonia may also be more prevalent.
The Remedy Rx: Bacterial pneumonia must be treated by antibiotics while viral pneumonia should get better on its own. The CDC recommends those with higher risk of pneumonia, including those over 65 years of age or with compromised immune systems, receive two pneumonia vaccines. Since the flu can cause the onset of pneumonia, the flu vaccine is also recommended.
If your allergies get worse near the holiday season and after you’ve decorated your home for Christmas, you may have a Christmas tree allergy. You’re probably not even allergic to the tree itself, but to the dust and allergens that can gather on it. These allergies can ruin your holiday with a runny or stuffy nose, coughing, and red or itchy eyes. According to Dr. Kara Wada, MD, from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “Mold growing on the Christmas tree is most likely to blame for watery eyes, runny noses or trouble breathing.”
The Remedy Rx: To combat your allergies, Dr. Wada recommends giving your Christmas tree a rinse off and letting it thoroughly dry before putting it in your home. Your artificial tree, ornaments, and tree stand should be dusted off completely with a vacuum or leaf blower. You can also get over-the-counter or prescription medication to relieve your allergy symptoms for the season.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, shifts in temperatures and season changes can trigger migraines. If you’re already susceptible to these intense and prolonged headaches, be aware that the onset of winter could make them worse. A change in barometric pressure could be the culprit. Cold and dry air are also known to lead to quicker dehydration in many people, which could be the cause of intense headaches.
The Remedy Rx: Drink plenty of water, especially in the colder months, to ensure you’re not dehydrated. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy may also help keep migraines away during the winter. Dr. Cynthia Armand, MD, from Montefiore Medical Center also says, “The migraine brain loves schedule, so try to keep a normal schedule as much as possible.”
Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, occurs when your eye’s conjunctiva is irritated by an infection or allergies. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, when you have pink eye, you’ll experience red, swollen, or inflamed eyes with a sticky white discharge. Since pink eye is extremely contagious and can be passed just like a cold, it’s most common in the winter time, when colds are also more apparent.
The Remedy Rx: According to Dr. Rishi Singh, MD, from the Cleveland Clinic, conjunctivitis germs are spread through contact, so it’s important to “remember those public places, like doorknobs and elevator buttons and those not-so-public places, like airplanes and pillows from hotel rooms that can harbor the virus.” Frequent hand washing is essential to preventing pink eye. If you contract conjunctivitis, visit your eye doctor immediately so you can begin antibiotic treatment.
Whooping cough is also commonly referred to as pertussis and is a serious bacterial infection that usually only affects infants and children. While this illness starts off similar to a common cold, it can progress to coughing that ends in a gasp for air, which usually sounds like a whooping. This cough can be accompanied by a fever, runny nose, watery eyes, or sneezing.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, “Whooping cough is on the rise, because fewer children are getting vaccinations and then boosters every 10 years. In recent years, between 10,000 and 40,000 cases have been reported annually nationwide.” Since contagious illnesses are more prevalent in the winter, whooping cough may also be more common during this season.
The Remedy Rx: Whooping cough can last up to 10 weeks and if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia and other serious illnesses. Visit your doctor as soon as possible so you can begin antibiotic treatment. Treatment will reduce the time you’re sick and make you less contagious. You should also drink plenty of fluids, rest, try to stay warm, and stay away from airborne pollutants, such as dust or smoke.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is what some would call the “winter-time blues.” It’s common to feel a little lethargic in the winter time, when the weather outside gets cold and miserable and you aren’t as active outdoors as you were in warmer seasons. But if your blues begin to affect your daily life and make you feel depressed, you may be experiencing SAD. According to Rush University Medical Center, you may have SAD if you suddenly have difficulty taking initiative, don’t want to be social, or can’t sleep. You may also struggle to focus on small tasks, have suicidal thoughts, or feel hopeless about the future.
The Remedy Rx: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular social interaction can help keep you happy during the cold winter months. If you feel the symptoms of SAD, talk to your doctor or a psychologist right away. A professional can help you to combat your winter blues. You may need to get more sunlight or use light therapy to mimic sunlight. You may also need prescription medication to regulate the chemical imbalances your body is experiencing. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these Worst Things For Your Health—According to Doctors.