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What Health Conditions Worsen In Winter And Cold Weather?

A senior man looks out the window at the snowy landscape

As a senior, you likely already feel the cold more readily all year long, so winter can be unbearable for you some days.

While your main priority will be layering up in winter, make sure you pay extra attention to your health this time of year.

Some medical conditions can flare up more in the cold, which can catch you unawares if you’re not ready for it.

Be on the lookout for your condition(s) on this list.

Psoriasis 

Do you frequently get itchy, thickened skin from your psoriasis? Perhaps your skin gets so dry it even cracks and bleeds? The frequency and severity of your psoriasis symptoms will ramp up in winter for several reasons.

One is ultraviolet ray exposure from the sun.

Even when the sun is hiding behind the clouds, which it so often does during the winter, you still receive UV rays on your skin.

The other reason your psoriasis gets more prevalent is dry winter air. 

Speak to your doctor about how you can manage your psoriasis in the winter. They may recommend these pointers:

  • Use a humidifier, especially where you sleep.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Apply moisturizer on your skin.
  • Keep showers lukewarm to cool or cold; hot showers dry out your skin.
  • Consider increasing your psoriasis skin treatments if allowed.

Joint Conditions

Your joints have been killing you lately, but you just can’t pinpoint why. You haven’t done anything different in your day-to-day routine, yet you’re struggling to get comfortable, and the pain might even impact your sleep. 

The reason your joints hurt more in the winter is because barometric pressure changes widen the tendons and muscles.

Your joints, which already feel enough strain as it is, now receive even more. 

You’re not without options. Try the following:

  • Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement; deficiencies can make joint pain worse, and with less sunlight in the winter, your vitamin D levels may be low.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet to maintain a good weight for your age.
  • Stretch each morning, including before exercising.
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Put extra layers on and adjust the heat accordingly to stay warm. 

Autoimmune Diseases

As autumn begins and especially as we get deep into winter, any autoimmune diseases you have might begin acting up.

Besides psoriasis, arthritis and systemic lupus can also cause more problems this time of year. 

The reason for the flare-up is simply due to the cold temperatures. A lack of vitamin D could also play a role, so make sure to talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplements if you haven’t already. 

Respiratory Conditions

Are you finding it hard to breathe this winter?

As you inhale the cold air, your airways temporarily shrink, limiting how much air you can get into your lungs. Your body also makes more mucus as a response, which doesn’t help you breathe better. 

You might notice you get breathless more often. You may also have a cough that doesn’t abate until spring and even begin wheezing at times. 

The best solution is to limit your exposure to the cold, but you can’t always do that.

When you must be outside, try warming the air you breathe by inhaling through the nose, then releasing the breath through your mouth with a scarf or mask on. 

Raynaud’s Disease

If you have Raynaud’s disease, you already deal with numbness in your extremities on a regular basis caused by the constriction of arteries when it’s cold, and limiting how much blood flow you receive. 

Raynaud’s typically affects the nose, ears, toes, and fingers, which will first feel cold, then numb. They can also become reddened. 

Keep your hands free when out and about during the winter, as holding onto items for too long can affect blood flow.

Make sure you bundle up, too, covering the affected areas when you venture outdoors. 

Asthma 

If you have asthma, the winter can lead to scary breathing moments, enough that you might want to consider staying indoors.

It’s primarily the drier, colder air that causes airway constriction. 

These tips might help you better control your asthma until spring arrives:

  • Bring a reliever inhaler. 
  • Wear a scarf to cover your face when outdoors.
  • Breathe through your nose.
  • Use humidifiers.
  • Talk to your doctor about changing your asthma management plan.

Depression

Some people develop seasonal depression (not just seniors), which worsens during the reduced daylight hours of winter due to a decrease in serotonin.

Others have depression all year long but might notice flareups in symptoms during the winter for the above reasons.

Make sure you build the following into your winter habits to manage depression:

  • Continue taking antidepressants, anxiety medications, and other related medications you’re prescribed.
  • Talk to your mental health professional about potentially increasing your dosage over the winter.
  • Consider vitamin D supplements if your doctor approves them.
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get a good amount of sleep.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Consider light therapy.

How To Protect Your Heart In Winter 

Another condition to be cautious about is angina, which causes pain, tightness, and a heavy feeling in your chest. Since it can sometimes indicate coronary artery disease, it’s always worth seeing your doctor if you have symptoms or concerns.

Even if you don’t have angina, heart conditions are more prevalent in the elderly, so ensure you take strides to keep your health your top priority this winter.

Here’s how:

  • Stay warm: Wear layers when in the house, and especially put on thicker, heavier layers when outdoors. Cover your extremities, wearing gloves, a hat, and a face mask if necessary. 
  • Keep hydrated: Even at your age, you still need six to eight glasses of water per day. A reusable water bottle with clear markers for water levels will help you see how much water you’ve consumed and what you have left to drink. 
  • Exercise often: Plan to exercise for 75 to 150 minutes a week, with the lower time frame recommended for more vigorous activity. That’s about 15 to 20 minutes per day of exercise five days a week. 
  • Go easy on outdoor exercise: You’re not totally stuck exercising indoors in winter, but if you go for a run or walk outside, you need to ease your way into it. Going full throttle can leave your body shocked from the cold. You might struggle to breathe and could increase your risk of injury. 
  • Eat a balanced diet: It’s fine to indulge in winter comfort foods occasionally, but your diet should primarily be full of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, healthy fats, proteins, and fiber. Limit carbs, sugar, and sodium. 
  • Don’t overheat: While layering up and sitting under a thick blanket are fine if you feel cold, make sure you don’t overheat, especially when sleeping. Overheating puts more strain on the heart. 
  • Continue medications: Don’t let up on the medications you’re taking. You might discuss dosage increases with your doctor for the winter, but otherwise, maintain your regimen. 
  • Get a flu shot: With nearly 15,400 seniors dying from the flu between 2022 and 2023 in the United States, a flu diagnosis can be deadly. Prioritize getting an annual flu shot. 
  • Manage your mental health: Your mental health plays a role in physical health, especially when it comes to stress and depression. Controlling both will keep your heart healthier all year long. 

Cold Weather Protection – Which Body Parts Need The Most Coverage?

Seniors are at a higher risk of hypothermia, so covering the extremities in the winter is a must.

Any other body parts far from the heart also need protecting, including your face; specifically, the chin, cheeks, ears, and nose.  

Wrapping Up 

Winter is a dangerous time for the elderly, but you don’t have to hide away in your house until the first buds of spring bloom.

By understanding which conditions get worse in winter and how to manage them, you can keep your physical and mental health in excellent shape all season long. 

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