You know how your mother always told you to put on a hat in the cold weather or you’ll catch a cold? Well, that’s not exactly accurate. The cold alone can’t make you sick. It takes a virus or bacteria to bring on illnesses like the common cold, flu, and stomach bugs. You could stand outside with wet hair in the freezing cold for a week and if the germs aren’t there, you won’t catch a cold. You’ll probably get hypothermia, but you won’t catch a cold! Still, while mom may have been wrong on that count, cold weather can impact health in many others ways.
The Impact of Cold Weather on Your Health
- The Common Cold and Flu. I know what you’re thinking; the intro paragraph specifically states that you can’t catch a cold simply by being out in cold weather. That’s true! However, since you tend to spend more time indoors with little air circulation, you are putting yourself at an increased risk for exposure to viruses. When it’s freezing outside, most people head to indoor activities. A lot of bodies in an enclosed space mean a lot of germs jumping ship from one person to another. How can you avoid getting sick when you’re spending hours at a time indoors around potentially ill people? Wash your hands! That’s really the best way to avoid catching the flu or other illnesses. It’s either that or stay at home and wear a face mask whenever you go out in public. Neither of those is very practical…or comfortable.
- Hypothermia. Perhaps the biggest risk to your health in cold weather is hypothermia. Most people think you have to be outside in sub-zero temperatures to be at risk for this condition, but even short-term exposure to very cold places can cause it. Falling in cold water, playing with snow without wearing gloves, and even living in a house with inadequate heating can all cause hypothermia. Combat this health risk by bundling up in a warm winter coat when you go outdoors, staying away from thin ice, and making sure your kids wear waterproof gloves when they play in the snow. Hypothermia is a medical emergency, so if it is even suspected, get to the emergency room.
- Slips and falls. Winter is probably the busiest season for orthopedic doctors, with so many people slipping on ice and falling during snow sports like skiing. It’s extremely easy to lose your footing on icy patches. It only takes one little misstep to shatter your leg in three places! The best way to avoid slipping is to just be careful. Really, there isn’t much more you can do than that. Walk slowly, watch where you put your feet, and don’t tackle those advanced mountains if you haven’t even mastered the bunny slope.
- Aching joints. While this cold weather ailment commonly affects older people, It can also affect children who have experience broken bones in their life. Children who suffer from childhood arthritis can also be affected. While scientists haven’t really discovered definitive proof that cold weather impacts joints and bones, anyone who has ever been laid up in bed due to pain on a cold winter’s day can tell you that it really does seem to have an effect. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to stop this from happening. Find relief with warm compresses, a soak in the tub, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, if your doctor says it’s okay to take it.
- Depression. Seasonal affective disorder affects millions of people during the cold weather months. The condition is thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight. It may also be a side effect of staying cooped up indoors. Light therapy can help resolve seasonal depression, as can getting outdoors during the daytime to soak up as much sun as possible.
Dealing with cold weather illnesses and health issues isn’t fun. Chance are, you’re already miserable from shoveling snow, staying indoors, and feeling constricted from those twenty layers of clothing you need to pile on just to go to the end of the driveway to get your mail. Just remember, spring isn’t far away!
How do you keep your family safe in the cold weather?