Cold can be a killer, be preparedBy Veita Bland, M.D. / December 1, 2023
As if we could forget the date on the calendar, the North wind reminds us of cold weather and the need to bundle up in warm clothing and take good care of ourselves. Each year, hundreds of people die due to exposure to the weather. The homeless population is quite often our most vulnerable population when it comes to weather-related illnesses. During the fall and winter months, agencies across the country pull together resources to care for populations at risk of cold exposure like the homeless as well as those who may have difficulty paying their heating bills.
Many people find it difficult to prepare themselves for cold weather. Some people believe it is a badge of honor to try to prove that falling temperatures do not affect them in any way. However, cold weather can cause the body’s blood vessels to constrict, which can affect the heart and raise one’s blood pressure. Heart attacks often occur due to cold weather exposure. Blood in the body may become thicker, which can result in the formation of blood clots and lead to more heart attacks.
Prolonged exposure to cold weather can cause the body to exhaust its stored energy resources. This can result in the body’s inability to maintain a normal temperature, which can lead to hypothermia. Frostbite can also occur. The body’s infection-fighting ability can also be compromised when it is cold. This can place you at greater risk of getting ill.
There are tips you can use to take care of yourself during the winter months.
First, try to get more sunlight. The effect of the sun on the body is profound. Sunshine can help improve your mood and keep your circadian rhythm in sync. Honor that and venture out in the sun.
Second, take time to dress warmly. A significant amount of body heat can be lost from your head. It is important to wear a hat or other head covering. Wear a coat or a jacket lined with warm material like fleece. Make sure your children are dressed appropriately for cold weather with coats, hats and gloves. This is especially important for children, who may not be able to tell you they are cold. This also goes for elderly people and for people who may be immune compromised.
Third, pay attention to your mental health during the winter months. If you are sad, remember some people experience changes in their serotonin levels due to a lack of sunshine and shorter days. This change can trigger such feelings. The winter months are also a perfect time to tap into your creative side and participate in more activities and crafts.
Fourth, stay hydrated with adequate fluids. Often, people do not recognize they are thirsty during this time of year. Remember, drinks containing caffeine such as coffee and tea may be warm in temperature, but they can function as a diuretic. Therefore, you must drink additional fluids. Water is the best.
Fifth, take care of your skin. Cold weather can wreak havoc on the skin and cause chapped lips. Develop a skincare routine; incorporate hydrating lotions and lip balm to prevent drying and cracking.
Lastly, consider getting vaccinations against flu and COVID-19. If you are age 60 or older, consider the RSV vaccine. These inoculations will help you to stay healthy.
The name of the game is to take good care of yourself. We want to live to fight another day.
Dr. Veita Bland is a board-certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wed. Email Dr. Bland at email@example.com.