While the winter months should be a time for celebration and relaxation, there are a variety of winter health risks that you’ll need to be aware of as the temperature begins to drop. Frank Loesser wasn’t kidding when he sang “Baby it’s cold outside.” Winter weather is no joke, and there are a variety of ailments that could strike you or your patients at any time during the coming months. While colds and asthma will surely rise this winter, here are a few other issues you might not be aware of.
Winter Health Risks
Many aren’t aware that the cold weather can be detrimental to your heart. Cold weather can act as a vasoconstrictor, which means your blood vessels narrow, and that can play a role in raising the risk of heart attack, according to a 2014 Harvard Health Letter published by Harvard Medical School. Those who have already had heart issues diagnosed should avoid strenuous activity during the winter months. One of the most common scenarios is shoveling in cold weather that eventually results in heart attack or stroke.
Try to recommend that older patients have children or grandchildren do the shoveling, or even hire a professional company to take care of snow during the winter months.
While it’s always nice to go out and have fun in the snow, prolonged periods of time in cold weather can put you or your patients at an increased risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body falls below 95 degrees and cannot produce enough energy to stay warm. Again, older adults are at a higher risk, but hypothermia can happen to anyone. In many cases, children will play outside for long periods of time without realizing that their body temperature is dropping.
Among the winter health risks, hypothermia is one of the sneakiest. What seems like a little shivering can quickly turn into a serious medical issue and if not addressed, organs can begin to shut down. Water should also be avoided during the winter, so ponds or rivers that seem safe to walk over should be avoided.
Out of all the winter health risks, frostbite is one of the fastest health issues to set in. Skin that’s overexposed to the winter elements can quickly become an issue. Frostbite occurs in freezing temperatures when your blood vessels narrow, skin temperature drops, and ice crystals form around and within your cells, causing damage. Shockingly, you can even get frostbite in your eyes if it’s a windy and cold day.
Frostbite can lead to serious pain, numbness, and in some severe cases, amputation. Make sure to stay inside as much as you can, especially on very cold days. While it’s nice to get some fresh air, prolonged exposure to the cold atmosphere can be detrimental to your health.
This is one of the winter health conditions that many will ignore despite it being one of the deadliest. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is when a person becomes depressed during the winter months. The holidays can be a lonely time if you don’t have family around, so it’s important to keep an eye on your friends and family. Seniors are especially vulnerable because they might not be able to get the fresh air they desire.
If you have a patient that seems to be feeling effects from SAD, remind them of the variety of treatments offered. Severe symptoms can be eased in several ways, including light therapy that simulates sunlight, antidepressant medication and a type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy.
Seasonal depression is a very serious issue, so make sure that patients are being treated for the issue and they have a reliable support system they can lean on.