Have you ever noticed your joints hurt when a storm is rolling in? Or that your migraines are milder on sunny days? What about your blood pressure being generally lower during hot summer months?
“Temperature changes, humidity, and air pressure all affect the human body’s state of equilibrium,” says Nour Elassa, DO, a primary care physician with Atlantic Health System. “Major weather shifts can stress our body and challenge our immune system – especially in people who are more prone to certain health issues.”
Dr. Elassa explains that weather patterns can trigger upper respiratory conditions, joint pain, headaches, allergies, and asthma. She says, “When I explain to patients that their concerns could be their body reacting to the weather, it often provides helpful perspective -- and some relief!”
Here are four common health problems that can arise from a sudden change in weather.
Upper Respiratory Infections
A sore throat, sinus pain, colds and flu are varying degrees upper respiratory illnesses that can be triggered by seasonal change. Getting your annual flu shot and dressing in layers to help your body maintain its temperature will help. Also, consider adding a humidifier to your home to bring moisture into the air -- and remember to change filters every six months to lessen pollen and dust.
If you are feeling run down, don’t push it. Talk with your doctor and give your body time to work through any viral or bacterial infections that may be brewing. Drink lots of fluids, especially warm tea with honey, and limit gatherings until your symptoms improve. If you must be in a group, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and wash your hands – often.
Headaches and Migraines
Weather-related headaches or migraines are quite common, and their severity can vary from person to person. If you find you are sensitive to changes in air pressure or humidity, try turning off the lights in the room, and even try to sleep. Hot or cold compresses applied to your head and neck can also help. So can small amounts of caffeine in early stages of a migraine.
Your doctor can give you medications for relief and recommend lifestyle modifications. Daily routines are important too – an exercise routine, a bedtime routine and eating at the same time every day. Above all, stay hydrated, manage stress, and keeping a journal so you can begin to see patterns.
Muscle and joint pain, and injuries
Weather changes are known to trigger inflammation, arthritis and joint pain. Cooler air can make joints feel stiff. Warmer air can soothe aches and pains – but it also gets people outdoors and moving, which can lead to soreness and even injury. So even though your joints feel better, take it easy on your body when warm weather hits.
Over the counter medications can temporarily relieve some of the pain, and light exercise can help ease arthritic and inflamed joints. Movement is key, just remember exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous. A 15-minute walk outside is enough to lubricate your joints, increase your energy level and lighten your mood.
Allergies, asthma and bronchitis
When your lungs are exposed to really cold weather or changes in air pressure, they compress and make breathing difficult. Sinuses and ears are affected too. This makes people more vulnerable to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. If you’re reaching for your inhaler more often or need to see a doctor because your cough is getting more severe, remember that weather changes are common triggers for asthma, allergies and bronchitis. Seasonal pollen, dust, mold, and mildew are big contributors too.
To tamp down coughing, use an inhaler as prescribed by your doctor. Turn on your humidifier. Don’t smoke. Wear a mask while working outdoors. Gargle with salt water and drink plenty of fluids, especially water to thin mucus. And keep a cough drop in your pocket in case you start to feel that tickle in your throat.
“Patients know their body the best,” says Dr. Elassa. “If something doesn’t feel right and you’re concerned, come in and talk with us about it. There are medications and recommendations we can make to help people through these tough transitional times, there is no reason for people to suffer through it.”
Be Proactive About Your Health
To stay safe and healthy in all weathers, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals