Winter can be a magical time for most people, wherever they are in the world. Sure, the temperature drops significantly, but in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s the ever-present promise of Christmas, the comfort of an open fire and the charm of snowy weather. For some, however, winter is a concerning time, filled with aches and pains and the danger of an already existing illness flaring up. For patients who suffer from chronic conditions, winter is a time they’d much rather avoid, despite the seasonal prettiness. When the average person thinks of getting sick in the winter, they think of coughs, colds and (at worst) the flu. However, the dangers that those with a chronic illness face can be much more debilitating, and a lot more insidious. If you’re one of those people, protecting yourself during the colder months is vitally important.
Not every condition will be affected by seasonal weather changes, but a few of the major chronic conditions most certainly are. Four major chronic disorders that are affected by winter are arthritis, chronic Lyme disease, asthma and diabetes. Both chronic Lyme and arthritis present similar symptoms, although the former is much harder to diagnose, and comes with a host of other issues. Both conditions cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints and muscles; many patients report that their symptoms degenerate in the winter, largely due to reduced activity and the constant threat of influenza infection. When it comes to asthma, cold air causes the pathways in the lungs to narrow, as well as inflaming them. This makes it harder for the patient to breathe. People are also at risk for increased blood sugar in the winter due to less all-round activity, making patients with diabetes a potential winter casualty, too.
So how do these types of patients protect themselves as much as possible from flare-ups of these chronic conditions and others like them? Here are three key ways to get you started.
Depending on where you live, this is easier said than done. Winter tends to be cold, rainy and bleak, with few exceptions, unless you jet off to the Australian coast for the festive season. Despite this, keeping active is vitally important to maintaining your overall health, and making sure your chronic illness doesn’t get the better of you. The reasons why keeping active is beneficial are the same in any type of weather: exercise is necessary for your body, keeping it vital, healthy and functioning properly. Going outside might be an issue, but that’s no excuse. You can always find ways to keep your activity levels up, even if it’s just walking around a shopping centre a bit more than you would usually, or taking the stairs when you usually get in the lift. Indoor activities like yoga or a climbing wall can also be a fun way to keep fit, and don’t involve braving the unpredictable elements.
Stay as Healthy as Possible
This one might sound obvious, but it’s important to bear in mind that a simple bout of cold or flu could compound your chronic illness severely. The body is already under significant stress as it tries to fight back against the underlying disorder, so adding a fresh infection on top of it is a recipe for disaster. Additionally, some chronic diseases can debilitate a patient’s immune system, leaving them more open to attack where another more robust immune response might intercept the offending bacteria before it has a chance to instil itself.
This goes for both indoors and outdoors, at any time of day or night. Many people experience sleep disturbance in the winter, due to the decreasing temperature. Sleep deprivation can greatly impact both your immune response and your overall sense of health, so maintaining as regular a pattern as possible is important. If you're going outdoors, remember to wrap up in a good few layers, and don't neglect those chilly sensations when you get back inside. Keep your heating on, make friends with your hot water bottle, and switch out that summer duvet for a thicker winter spread. Wear cosy socks and heavy shoes, and don't forget about your head and hands! Being constantly cold can certainly be a miserable feeling, but it also weakens our bodies and can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression to boot.
Following these three basic steps will ensure you're better equipped as winter sets in, leaving you free to enjoy the fun and festivities all season long.