Ease Winter Health Woes
What to do about arthritis, dry mouth, and other concerns that can worsen in the colder months
Chilly weather can cause more than just discomforts such as chills and dry skin. From your mouth to your feet, cold can exacerbate existing health problems, making them more difficult to manage. Here are a few common conditions that winter weather can worsen, and what you can do about them.
Asthma and COPD
Research suggests that respiratory problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can worsen when the temperature dips. For example, in a 2017 study, researchers found that former smokers with COPD had poorer lung function and needed a rescue inhaler more often in cold temperatures. “Cold and particularly dry air can irritate the upper airways and sinuses,” says Katie Drago, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Oregon Health & Science University.
What to do: Avoid the cold if you can. When you do need to be outside, Drago suggests wrapping a scarf around your neck and the bottom half of your face. This can help keep the air you’re breathing more humid and warm. She says that these days, a face mask can accomplish that goal. Using a humidifier inside, especially at night, can also help.
Studies have not yet fully explained why many people with osteoarthritis report that cold can trigger joint pain. There are a number of theories about this, according to Staja Booker, PhD, assistant professor in the college of nursing at the University of Florida.
A common side effect of many medications is dry mouth, which can raise the risk of inflammation and cavities. Cold, dry air can make it worse.
What to do: Keeping air moist is important. In winter, when you’re heating your home, that can be tricky, so a humidifier can be a big help. And pay close attention to staying hydrated, with water or other nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated beverages. Over-the-counter saliva substitutes are available and may help, Drago says, but another option is simply to suck on a sour candy. These stimulate saliva production, and they come in sugar-free varieties.
Nerve damage from diabetic neuropathy can make it more difficult to feel and heal from wounds, especially on your feet. That means cuts or scratches can go unnoticed and untended. The cold, Drago says, can exacerbate this further. A scrape that doesn’t heal can progress to an ulcer or even lead to amputation.
What to do: Every day, carefully check your feet, and feel with your hands for any wounds or abrasions. Enlist the help of a loved one if you need to. If you find a cut or scrape, tell your primary care provider. If, after a few days, the wound doesn’t appear to be healing or gets larger, schedule an appointment and have your doctor take a look.