Body

Health issues to avoid this winter

Chilly weather can increase the risk of illnesses like colds and flu, and it may also make existing conditions worse. Here’s what to be wary of this winter.

Top tips for staying well this winter

Winter health worry: Depression

Some people can find that their depression gets worse when the weather is miserable. People with bipolar disorder may notice that they tend to have depressive symptoms in autumn and winter, and manic ones in spring and summer. There is also a particular type of depression called SAD (seasonal affective disorder) that affects people during winter.

While the exact cause is not known, it is thought to be related to a decrease in the amount of time your body is exposed to sunlight. This can interfere with your circadian rhythms (or natural body clock). It may also lead to a drop in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood. People with SAD are advised to get into the sunlight as much as they can.

This can be tricky in winter, so a treatment called light or photo therapy is often used. This involves sitting in front of special box which emits high levels of light, which can help to raise serotonin levels. Anti-depressant medications, which also increase serotonin, may also be helpful for some people.

Asthma

Asthma causes the airways to swell and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Cold weather can also cause the airways to tighten, adding to the problem. Chilly temperatures can also increase your respiratory rate, so you're more likely to breathe through your mouth. This can lead to cold, dry air entering the lungs and causing inflammation of the airways. If you have asthma, make sure you have your inhalers on hand when it's chilly. You could also try wearing a scarf around your face when you're outside in the cold. This warms the air before you breathe it into your lungs, which may help to prevent the airways becoming inflamed.

Arthritis

A drop in temperature or increase in barometric pressure during the winter can make arthritis symptoms worse. Try to avoid getting cold – take care to wrap up warmly when you are going outside and wear layers inside. Hydration is important for overall joint health, so make sure you drink plenty of water. Pain can feel worse if you are dehydrated. One way to counter problems like stiffness is to regularly do gentle stretching exercises. Soaking in a bath may also help your joints when you're feeling chilly – just make sure you get dry and warm quickly afterwards.

Psoriasis

This condition, which causes chronic inflammation of the skin, can be difficult to live with year-round, but in winter it may get worse. Extreme cold or dry conditions – such as being inside with the heating on – can stop the skin from retaining moisture, so it can develop cracks or fissures. UV rays from sunlight can improve psoriasis symptoms, so not getting out into the sun during winter can also have an impact. UV therapy can help, as can using a moisturiser.

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