Unseasonably cold weather is being reported across the United States this year as winter transitions to spring. In addition to creating annoyances like derailed travel plans, weather changes can also affect your health in ways you don’t realize. Here are seven unexpected ways the weather and your health are connected.
1. Joint Pain
You’re enjoying a beautiful spring day when you start to experience joint pain from an arthritis flare-up. The sky looks blue as far as you can see, but you wonder if rough weather could be looming in the distance.
Although the ability to feel a storm coming in your bones is often disregarded as an old wives’ tale, there may be some truth to it, especially for older adults. According to research published in the European Journal of Pain, there is evidence to suggest that changes in the weather can cause increased pain in some people. So, if you’ve been wondering why your knees have been aching more than usual, recent unseasonable weather conditions might be to blame.
You can’t control the weather, but you do have the ability to give yourself some relief from arthritis pain. Here are a few tips for soothing your joints when the weather triggers inflammation:
- Hydrate sufficiently
- Dress warmly
- Supplement with Vitamin D and fish oil
- Soak in warm baths
- Eat healthy foods
In addition to following these tips, you can also potentially relieve strain on your joints by losing weight through healthy dietary habits and gentle exercise. Regular massages during severe weather months may also relieve your discomfort.
2. Heart Problems
Extreme heat or cold can strain the heart, especially in those who already have a heart condition. When temperatures plummet, the blood vessels can narrow, prompting blood pressure to increase to get through narrowed veins and arteries, says Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz of Manhattan Cardiology. And in extreme heat, blood vessels can dilate, causing blood pressure to lower.
“Having too low or high blood pressure can be dangerous for anyone with an existing heart problem, as elevated blood pressure can lead to heart attacks or strokes,” Beniaminovitz says.
The doctor notes that many people are not used to the stress of vigorous outdoor activities and may not be aware of the dangers of being outside when temperatures are very low. Likewise, when it’s hot outside, the heart has to work harder to help produce sweat that cools the body, which can put strain on the heart and may lead to heatstroke.
“Give yourself a break. Take frequent rest breaks during shoveling or walking outside so you don’t over-stress your heart,” advises Beniaminovitz. “Pay attention to how your body feels during those breaks.” He also recommends consulting a doctor before exercising outdoors in the cold if you have medical concerns or symptoms of heart disease or diabetes.
If you’re a migraine sufferer, you may have noticed that your migraines are triggered by weather changes. Research backs up this connection.
Dr. Susan Hutchinson, a family practice physician and founder of the Orange County Migraine & Headache Center, says the drop in barometric pressure is a major trigger for many migraines sufferers.
“Typically there is a drop before a storm and it’s that drop that seems to be the most common trigger for migraine patients,” she says. Allergy symptoms can also trigger migraines, and springtime is when many may notice this link, according to Hutchinson.
The following are additional common weather-related migraine triggers.
- Dry air
- Stormy or windy weather
- Extreme cold or hot temperatures
- High humidity
If your headaches seem to occur more frequently when the weather changes, there are some things you can do to minimize your symptoms, including taking your migraine medication at the first sign of a headache. You may also be able to reduce the frequency of your migraines by monitoring the weather and avoiding weather conditions known to trigger your headaches.
In addition to checking the weather report and consulting with your doctor about migraine medications, Hutchinson recommends MigraineX, filtered earplugs that are designed to protect against weather-related migraine symptoms. Users can pair the earplugs with an app that sends an alert whenever there’s a drop in barometric pressure nearby. The doctor also advises keeping a record of what triggers your migraines (from weather changes to eating certain foods or sleep deprivation) to get a better idea of how to prevent them.
4. Increased Fall Risk
According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in American seniors. While falls can happen at any time, they’re more likely to occur in severe weather conditions.
In severe weather, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of falling. When possible, stay indoors in stormy or cold weather, wear shoes with good traction anytime you go outside and make sure your walkways are clear of snow and ice.
5. COPD and Other Lung Conditions
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is associated with a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including shortness of breath, respiratory infections and wheezing. These symptoms can be aggravated by temperature and weather changes. In a few rare cases, humid weather can actually improve symptoms of COPD. However, in most cases, increased humidity, smog and high heat cause symptoms to flare.
You can combat weather-related COPD symptoms by staying indoors during the most humid and hot days of the year. It’s also a good idea to limit your physical activity on high-pollution days.
6. Mood Changes
Weather-induced mood changes may seem like a cliché, but science shows that people are more likely to feel depressed or sad when it’s rainy outside. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s connected to seasonal weather changes. It may be worse for seniors who are not as active or who are already suffering from poor health.
If your mood changes are severe, it’s wise to talk to your doctor about your treatment options. However, if dreary weather just tends to make you feel blue for a little while, you may be able to boost your serotonin levels and elevate your mood by turning on lots of lights in your home, getting some physical exercise and engaging in activities you enjoy.
7. Worsening Asthma and Allergy Symptoms
It’s not just spring flowers that can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms: high humidity, high winds, cold temperatures and other sudden weather changes can also worsen these symptoms.
While March through June is peak season for allergy triggers due to an increase in tree and grass pollens, late summer and fall also causes allergies to flare up as weeds and ragweeds bloom, says Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network.
“The safest and best medicines for any age are topical nasal steroid and nasal antihistamine sprays as well as eye drops,” says Parikh. “It is best to discuss with your doctor which are best for you, especially if you have other medical problems or take other medications.”
The doctor also advises seeing a board-certified allergist so you can identify your allergy triggers and come up with a plan with your doctor to find the right treatment for you.