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The Cardiologist's Wife - Cold Weather Health Tips
Jan 15, 2018

Though we usually enjoy more temperate winters in Northeast Arkansas, this year we are experiencing some unusually cold weather. Cold weather can affect your health in several ways; beyond just being miserable, it can lead to death if not taken seriously. Be aware of the following problems and take steps to remedy them before they take a toll on your health.

Cold air is dry air and though I am not a fan of summer humidity, I notice my nose gets uncomfortably dry and irritated starting in November or December. My skin which is very oily, also gets noticeably dryer. Dry air damages the cilia lining your nasal and sinus cavities and since the cilia filters out bacteria, this makes you more vulnerable to sinus infections and picking up the latest virus. Dry air causes watery, itchy eyes and throat, chapped lips, respiratory problems like bronchitis and asthma, nosebleeds and contributes to chronic joint pain. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids each day, maybe more than usual. Invest in a good humidifier and use it, especially at night in your bedroom. Use nasal gel or a saline spray in your nose. Use chapstick and a thicker lotion to keep skin from cracking.

Many people just can’t stand to be cold and avoid going outside as much as possible, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. Couple that with eating too many heavy comfort foods and you’ll pack on several unhealthy pounds over the winter. Join a gym so you can continue to exercise in comfort or learn to bundle up and brave the cold for some winter fun. At least go for a walk when the temperature is more moderate and cut out junk food.

Several factors increase your chances of getting frostbite: age, very young children lose heat faster; the wind chill; your activity, moving will keep you warmer than standing or sitting in the cold (exception; running or cycling increases the effect of the wind chill). Your fingers, toes, ear lobes and nose are most susceptible to frostbite so keep them covered.

Watch out for ice. No one wants to get a concussion or break an arm falling on the ice. Pay attention to the forecast so you know what kind of precipitation might fall. Ice can look like wet pavement so check it carefully.

When you are exposed to cold air, water, wind or a combination, your body can get too cold and lose heat faster than it can make it, resulting in hypothermia. The temperature doesn’t even have to be that cold. Early symptoms include shivering, cold, pale or blue grey skin, poor judgement, unsteadiness, slurred speech, numbness and a lack of interest. More serious symptoms are stiff muscles, slow pulse, shallow breathing, sleepiness, confusion and loss of consciousness. Hypothermia can lead to death, so take immediate action to warm the victim. In the case of severe hypothermia, seek medical help. The very young and the elderly are more prone to hypothermia, as are outdoor pets with inadequate shelter. Bring pets inside when the weather is this cold.

Cold weather makes your arteries constrict, forcing your heart to work harder and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. This can increase your risk of a heart attack, especially if you already have a heart condition. Take care not to overexert yourself in the cold.

Wear a coat and gloves that are warm enough for the weather and suited for the activity, a hat and a scarf. Limit your time outside when the temperature or wind chill is below zero. Check on the elderly and take care of your pets.

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