Woman massaging her arthritic hand and wrist.

4 Health Conditions Made Worse by Cold Weather and How to Cope

For people with certain chronic health conditions, falling temperatures can mean more than just bundling up and driving with extra caution. For many, winter weather means the start of worsening symptoms. Here are four common health conditions made worse by the cold and how to ease the effects.

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) More than 11 million people in the U.S. suffer from COPD, according to the American Lung Association. The disease damages the airways in your lungs and leads to shortness of breath. Many people with COPD can attest that colder temperatures can make symptoms worse due to an increased strain on the respiratory system. Cold and flu viruses can also make COPD symptoms worse. The Lung Institute recommends changing your schedule where possible to avoid extremely cold temperatures and using a scarf or face mask that covers the nose and mouth, taking care to breathe through your nose, to warm the air before it enters the lungs. It is also very important to be compliant with COPD medications and to use them as prescribed which may include oxygen support if needed.
  • Asthma Almost 25 million Americans live with asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This chronic disease can make breathing difficult when airways become inflamed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the cold, dry air of winter can further irritate airways and cause them to become more sensitive and reactive. Cold and flu viruses can also exacerbate asthma symptoms. If the cold weather makes your asthma worse, try to limit outdoor exercise, wear a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm the air you breathe in and consider investing in a humidifier at home, taking special care to keep the filters and water tank clean. Lastly, it is equally important to be compliant with all asthma medications and to use them as prescribed.
  • Arthritis More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The condition can cause pain, swelling, stiffness and a decreased range of motion in the body’s joints. Recent studies have provided more evidence that links weather to joint symptoms, particularly in colder weather. Read up on steps you can take to reduce the effects of cold weather on your arthritis symptoms. It goes without saying that medication adherence and pain management remain key for ensuring optimal control of this condition.
  • Psoriasis About two percent of people in the United States have psoriasis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This autoimmune condition causes skin to renew at accelerated rates, which leads to thick, scaly, sometimes itchy patches of skin most often on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp. Cold weather can dry out skin, which makes the chances of having a flare-up worse. In contrast, hot, sunny weather appears to help control the symptoms of psoriasis for many people. Natural and artificial light are among the treatment approaches for this condition but before beginning any “light related therapy,” one must consult with and get support from the treating physician or physician team. Because ultraviolet light can help ease psoriasis symptoms, the lack of exposure to it in the wintertime can make the condition worse. Talk to your doctor about Natural light or phototherapy in the winter and make sure to keep skin well-moisturized, including the use of a humidifier.

Overall, keeping yourself as healthy as possible can help you to avoid complicating matters by catching a cold or the flu. Make sure to get a flu shot which is important in general but it is very important if you suffer from COPD or asthma, and wash your hands frequently.

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Photo credit: shih-wei

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