Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Prevent Winter Weather Illnesses

Dr. Pat Romano, Family Medicine, Riddle Hospital

 When the temperature drops and summer suddenly turns to fall, we make adjustments. We start warming the car up in the morning, bringing in potted plants or summer decorations so that they won’t deteriorate in colder weather, we bring out heavier jackets and put away our summer wardrobes. Just as we prepare our homes for the beginning of fall and winter, we can prepare our health, as well.

Although sickness can strike at any point and in any season, you’re less likely to be struck with a bout of bronchitis in the middle of July than you are in December. Lower temperatures and more time spent indoors in rooms with poor circulation can lead to an increase in respiratory infections, which is why it’s important to arm yourself with the knowledge of how to prevent or reduce your risk of being affected. Below, find some background and prevention tactics for three common winter weather illnesses.

Almost everyone has been affected by the flu at some point. If you haven’t had it, chances are that you know someone who has. The symptoms are very similar to that of a common cold, including a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But keep an eye out for additional symptoms, as well, like a fever, achy muscles, headache, fatigue, and chills, which could be signs that your cold isn’t all the common and could be the flu.

Your best defense against contracting the flu is to receive the flu vaccination, which is often distributed at local hospitals or pharmacies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for anyone over the age of six months, especially for groups that are prone to the flu, like young children, pregnant women, and older adults. The vaccine is often available either as an injection or as a nasal spray.

Bronchitis is a virus that has become associated with a dry, painful cough. Like many other respiratory infections, the virus can stem from another illness, like a cold or even the flu, which then develop into bronchitis. In addition to coughing, bronchitis sufferers may also report symptoms like fatigue, chest discomfort, and a slight fever and chills.

To prevent bronchitis from affecting you this winter, stay away from some environmental irritants that might trigger a cough or cold, like cigarette smoke and chemical fumes. Getting vaccinated to prevent the flu can also prevent bronchitis, as the flu can be one of the causes for this virus.

Like bronchitis, sinusitis can occur as a result of earlier illnesses, like the cold or flu. However, other triggers for sinusitis include bacteria, allergies, and fungal infections. Although it may sound like allergies are out of the question during the colder months, the fall and winter can be just as difficult for allergy sufferers, due in part to moldy areas in the home or dusty ventilation systems. Whether it’s caused by environmental factors like these or a prior illness, most people who suffer from sinus issues will notice symptoms like pain or swelling around the eyes, cheeks, nose and forehead, a cough, and aching in the jaw and teeth.

Acute sinusitis, which most people who are diagnosed will experience, can be prevented by avoiding cigarette smoke, getting the flu vaccine to decrease your risk for respiratory illnesses, using a humidifier, and managing your allergies. If you are an allergy sufferer, cleaning out particularly moldy or dusty areas of your home before the fall and winter can help decrease your risk for sinusitis.

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms or think you may be getting sick, call your doctor to make an appointment.

Pat Romano, D.O., is board-certified in family practice medicine and currently practices at Riddle Hospital. He attended medical school and completed an internship and residency at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For more information on Dr. Romano, visit www.mainlinehealth.org.


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