Let’s look at some ways winter can negatively affect your health and what you can do about it.
First of all, it is thought that the nasty bug influenza can survive better in colder, drier climates. When the air is humid, virus particles get trapped in tiny water droplets, which fall to the ground. So in a drier environment, the virus circulates more rampantly. The virus also cannot survive well when temperatures are warm. When more people have the flu and come together in close quarters indoors, viruses can spread more easily. The best thing to do to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Additionally, washing your hands on a regular basis, covering your mouth when you cough, and not going out in public when you have a fever can help prevent contraction and spread of the flu.
Indoor allergies are more common in winter when it is cold because people spend more time indoors. Also, when heating units are turned on, especially if an indoor heating filter has not been recently changed, allergens can get stirred up and concentrated more inside. These allergens can include dust mites, animal dander (dead skin flakes), cockroach droppings, and indoor mildew and molds. When the heat is turned up indoors, it can make your nasal passages drier, causing skin irritation inside the nose. This can worsen inflammation when someone already has allergies, making them worse. These allergies can be minimized by vacuuming carpets regularly, not having wall-to-wall carpeting, using an indoor HEPA filter, keep pets groomed and bathed once a week, washing sheets in very hot water to kill dust mites, and use hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers to keep dust mites trapped inside the pillows and mattresses. Nasal sprays such as an over the counter saline-based nasal spray can be used multiple times a day to keep the mucus membranes moist. Oral antihistamines such as Cetirizine, Fexofenadine, and Loratadine and nasal sprays such as Azelastine can help minimize allergy symptoms. For very refractory symptoms, immunotherapy (allergy shots) is a very effective long term solution. A humidifier by your bed at night can also help.
Nosebleeds can be exacerbated by cold, dry winter air. This is because the skin inside the nose becomes dry and cracked, exposing blood vessels that are normally covered. Nosebleeds can be prevented by keeping the nasal membranes moist. Placing petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Aquaphor) around your nostrils helps moisturize air that you breathe. Also, using a nasal saline gel over the counter will help moisturize the nose. A saline base spray, which you can get over the counter and keep in your purse, pocket, or bag, can be used multiple times a day to help keep the nose moist. Again, a humidifier by your bed at night can help as well.
Your skin can get very cracked and dry in the winter. On your face, dry skin can enhance the appearance of wrinkles and aging. On your hands, your skin can get cracked, creating small cuts, allowing passages of bacteria and infections. Dry skin can also be very itchy, and for people with skin conditions such as eczema, this can worsen with dry and itchy skin. Thus, it is important to keep your skin moist in the winter. Different moisturizers can help with this. Keep a bottle of daily moisturizing lotion with dimethicone skin protectant and natural colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, cocoa butter or something similar, in your bathroom so you can moisturize your hands after you wash them. As cold as it is, avoid taking very long hot dry baths or showers because this also dries out your skin. Use body moisturizers with shea butter, cocoa butter, or coconut oil after you bathe. For your facial skin, find a good facial moisturizer and use it at least twice a day. Even more importantly, make sure to continue to use facial sunscreen at least daily, even in the winter, as the UVA rays can still affect your facial skin and increase spots, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. If you have dry itchy skin, a zinc-based sunscreen moisturizer can help quell the itching while also blocking the UVA and UVB rays, and providing moisture.
Make sure and drink enough water to keep your entire body hydrated. Soups and foods with natural liquids in them are better than salty, crunchy foods and alcohol, which dehydrate your body. Overall hydration to your entire digestive system can help hydrate your skin, nasal lining, and all of your bodily tissues to help minimize dryness in the cold. Also, make sure and eat enough healthy fats such as omega-3, which is found in salmon, and omega-6, which is found in olive oil. Avocado and coconut oil are also great sources of natural and healthy fat. These healthy fats will also help keep your skin moist.
In summary, the cold dry air in the winter can be a source of irritation for the skin, allergies, and increased flu viruses, but if you follow some of these small lifestyle changes, it’s possible to keep yourself warm and healthy while enjoying the snow and the winter season.