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6 min read

Cold weather: How to stay healthy

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Last reviewed: 04/12/2020
Medically reviewed

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Some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat and cold sores, are triggered or worsened by cold weather.

Here's how to deal with these common cold weather ailments.

Colds

You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys bugs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people, such as light switches and door handles.

It's also important to keep the house and household items like cups, glasses and towels clean, especially if someone in your house is ill.

Top tip

If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of fabric handkerchiefs so you don’t reinfect your own hands.

Read 5 surprising facts about the common cold.

Flu

Flu can be a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over, pregnant women and people with long-term health conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are particularly at risk.

The best way to prevent getting the flu is to have the flu jab every winter(or flu nasal spray for children aged 2 to 17). This vaccine gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.

The pneumococcal vaccine can provide protection against pneumonia, a swelling of the tissue in your lungs. People who have recently had flu may be more likely to get pneumonia.

Top tip

Find out if you're at risk of getting flu by asking a doctor. If you're in a high-risk group, see a doctor to get the vaccination.

Sore throat

Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections.

There's some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat.

Top tip

One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water.

It won't heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect.

Asthma

Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in cold weather.

Top tip

If you go out on a cold, windy day, wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth.

Be extra sure to take your regular medications, and keep reliever inhalers close by.

Get tips to avoid cold-related asthma attacks.

Norovirus

Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug.

It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

You can catch norovirus by coming into close contact with an infected person, touching a contaminated surface then touching your mouth, and eating food prepared or handled by someone with the bug.

The illness can be unpleasant, but it's usually over within a few days.

Top tip

When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it's important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk.

You can reduce the risk of dehydration by drinking oral rehydration fluids, which are available from most pharmacies.

Read about how to prevent food poisoning.

Painful joints

Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful and stiff in winter, though it's not clear why this is the case.

However, there's no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.

Top tip

Many people get a little depressed during the winter months, and this can make pain and medical conditions feel worse.

Daily exercise can boost your mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it's easy on the joints.

Find out how to get started with swimming for fitness.

Cold sores

Cold sores can be a sign that we're run down or under stress. While there's no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter.

Top tip

Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park, or watching one of your favourite films.

Read about how to deal with stress.

Heart attacks

Heart attacks are more common in winter. This may be because cold weather increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to keep your body warm when it's cold.

Top tip

Stay warm in your home. Heat the main rooms you use to at least 18C and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed.

Wrap up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.

More tips on how to keep warm and well.

Cold hands and feet

Raynaud's phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather.

Fingers can go white, then blue, then red, and throb and tingle. The small blood vessels of the hands and feet go into spasm, temporarily reducing blood flow to your hands and feet.

In severe cases, medication can help, but most people manage to live with their symptoms.

Top tip

Don't smoke or drink caffeine (both can worsen symptoms) and always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.

Get advice on how to stop smoking.

Dry skin

Dry skin is common and is often worse during the winter when the air is drier.

Moisturising is essential during winter. Moisturising lotions and creams can help with this by stopping the skin's natural moisture from evaporating away.

The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower as soon as you’ve patted your skin dry.

Top tip

Have warm, rather than hot, showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy.

Key points

  • wash your hands to help prevent infections like colds, norovirus and flu
  • keep warm at home by turning the heating on and wrap up when you go outside
  • exercise daily to keep active and feel positive
  • moisturise regularly to prevent dry skin

References:

  1. Overview - Pneumonia | NHS [Internet]. nhs.uk. [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  2. Sore throat. Fried, MP | MSD Manuals [Internet]. Msdmanuals.com. 2020 [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  3. Sore throat - acute | National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [Internet]. cks.nice.org.uk [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  4. Sore throat [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  5. Rheumatoid arthritis [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  6. Rheumatoid arthritis, overview [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  7. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
  8. How to stay well in winter [cited 5th October 2020]. Available here.
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