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beating colds and flu

Beating Colds and Flu

As temperatures drop, the risk of falling ill rises.

For years people have thought there was a correlation between the weather and health.  Now, thanks to research by atmospheric scientists into biometeorology (the study of the weather’s impact on the human body), it has been proven that cold snaps, heat waves and changes in temperatures definitely have a direct effect on certain health conditions.


beating colds and flu

Pressure changes

The changes in barometric pressures that come with cold temperatures and windy weather or storms are a typical cause of migraines and headaches, as well as other ailments.

Ask anyone with arthritis and they will tell you that they know when the temperatures have dropped or rain is in the air.  This may be because inflamed joints swell more in lower air pressures, that a lack of sunlight has left the body low in Vitamin D, or that inactivity in bad weather has caused joints to stiffen.

Cold weather doesn’t help with blood pressure either.  As the body conserves heat during winter and sends blood to essential organs, blood flow can be constricted and BP can rise and, with it, the risk of heart attacks.  In fact, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has reported a rise in ischaemic heart disease in those aged over 65 shortly after the winter drop in temperature.

Lung problems such as bronchitis and emphysema are undoubtedly exacerbated by allergies and, although summer has long gone, there are still allergens in the air from things like mould and dust mites.  Storms whip up pollen grains from the ground and cause many asthma attacks and sudden changes in temperature can lead to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Other winter conditions such as influenza (flu) can be very dangerous for people over 65, and gastroenteritis, which is often mistaken for flu but is actually a different virus which affects the stomach, is rife at this time of year.  Even the common cold can have us laying low for days if not a couple of weeks!

As the cold and wind dries the skin, eczema can become worse unless the skin is kept well hydrated, and winter rashes, which are similar in appearance in that the skin is itchy, flaking, sensitive, red and swollen, can last for months.

If your extremities have been exposed to cold air, warm them up slowly to avoid painful chilblains.  If you become too cold and your body’s temperature drops below 35°C (95°F) there’s a risk of hypothermia and, be warned, as incredible as it may seem, there has been an increase in frostbite in the last 20 years, especially amongst those working outdoors.

Beating colds and flu is difficult but we can do something about it.

What can we do?

As nice as it is, staying home, wrapping yourself up and binge-watching TV in front of a fire can also be bad for you!  Sedentary behaviour of this kind can actually increase your chances of contracting a virus, stiffen the joints and leave you less fit and able to fight off incoming diseases.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Sleep is part of the body’s defence so ensure you have enough of it.
  • Stop the spread of bugs with regular hand washing and don’t share towels.
  • A humidifier in the bedroom will prevent cold, drier air from leading to sore throats in the morning.
  • The tell-tale stiffness, aches and pain of arthritis can be relieved by warm showers but it’s essential to keep the affected joints warm and dry.
  • Heat packs can soothe pain and wearing tighter clothing such as therapy gloves or compression socks can restrict swelling whilst keeping the arthritic area warm.
  • Treat yourself to a skin moisturiser to ensure proper hydration.
  • Enjoy a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Use tissues instead of cotton hankies and throw the germs away.
  • Don’t forget to exercise or have a massage – both will improve blood flow and help. strengthen the immune system.
  • You either love ‘em or hate ‘em but flu jabs work for many of us and are available free to the elderly, as well as people with certain conditions such as low immune systems or diabetes.

Staying warm, keeping hydrated, taking exercise and employing good hygiene seem to be the keys to good health over the winter, beating colds and flu.

beating colds and flu

True or False?

We often say “starve a fever and feed a cold”?  Today’s theory is that there is no medical reason to under or over eat for either ailment, your body just needs a balanced diet of nutrients and sufficient calories to fight off infection.

As for “Vitamin C cures the common cold”, a 2007 report found that taking 200mg of vitamin C (two to three times the recommended daily dose) not only reduced sick days from 12 to 11 a year but, also, reduced the number of colds in people who were under extreme stress by 50%!

Let’s not forget “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.  A 2015 study found no evidence that this was true but did find that people who ate an apple a day used fewer prescription medications.  Plus it would be one of the essential five-a-day.


First published in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Shutterstock