During this winter there’s no doubt that the weather has started to “turn”, with temperatures dropping all over the UK. Whilst the early morning frost and crisp conditions lend themselves to the festive season, there is a “darker” side to the cold weather, which can be dangerous for vulnerable groups such as older people and those with long term health conditions.
Wintertime Health Risks
Plunging temperatures worsen a range of health conditions, with 80% of deaths due to circulatory diseases such as heart disease, lung illnesses and stroke. Cold weather can weaken the immune system, increase blood pressure, thicken the blood and lower body temperature, increasing the risks of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and chest infections. If you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cold weather can make health problems like these far worse and can trigger a flare-up of your symptoms It’s a good idea to put on your hat, scarf and gloves when you go outside.There are other things you can do to as well. Here are some tips for looking after your lungs in the cold weather:
- Check the weather before going out. If it’s too cold or breezy for you, or you are not feeling well or are having trouble breathing, stay indoors and keep warm.
- If you have an inhaler, use it half an hour before going outside. Carry your medication with you at all times, as cold air can tighten your airways making it harder for you to breathe.
- Try to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. This will help warm the air.
Protect your lungs by wearing a hood or scarf that covers your mouth.
Professor Keith Willett, medical director for acute care at NHS England, says in a statement: “The NHS is here to help but there are important things we can all do to take care of ourselves during the winter months.
“It is vital that the most vulnerable people take preventative steps to keep healthy and stay well. We have a high number of A&E attendances over this time that are due to issues which could have been avoided had people sought advice at the first sign of illness.
“We are urging people to take practical steps such as to wrap up warm before the temperature dial hits freezing.”
Professor Paul Cosford, director for health protection at Public Health England, adds: “If you qualify for the free flu jab, get it now. Also, remember that eating a healthy, balanced diet and that staying physically active can keep you healthy.”
- Keep warm by wearing layers of clothing when it’s cold. This traps warm air better than one bulky layer
- Heat your home to at least 18C (65F) You might prefer your living room to be slightly warmer during the day – especially if you feel the cold, know that cold air can trigger a flare-up, or are not able to move around easily.
- Stay active and try not to sit still for more than an hour or so get up, move around and try to do some exercise. When you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour or so. Chair exercises are a good way to keep warm and active.
- Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights, as breathing cold air increases the risk of chest infections.