6 Unexpected Illnesses That Are More Common During The Winter
Winter is cold and flu season, as we've all learned since primary school — hence why you should always get your flu shot. But it's also prime time for other illnesses and conditions to surface, ones you don't necessarily associate with snowy skies and frosted-up windows. Whether it's a pre-existing condition that may be more likely to surface in winter or an illness that first shows up when the weather turns cool, there are several conditions that flourish in winter, for various reasons. These unexpected illnesses can be more common in winter, even though they seem like all-year-round kind of deals.
The weather itself, what we do to cope with cool temperatures, and other factors related to wintry months can all cause health conditions, even if we're not expecting it. To keep a handle on your health every winter, pay attention to your body, eat properly and get lots of rest, and get a good dose of vitamin D when you can to boost your immune system. Try to stay away from holidays parties where everybody's sneezing in a warm room, too. If you do end up getting ill, though, don't worry; it's happened to thousands of others, and while you might be surprised to see these illnesses show up in the winter months, your doctor certainly won't be. Here are six illnesses you might be surprised to see over the wintertime.
Thrush, otherwise known as a yeast infection, is caused by an overgrowth of candida bacteria in the vagina and vulva, causing that painful, itchy, red feeling dreaded by women worldwide. Candida flourishes in warm, moist environments, which means that the clothing many of us love in winter — tights, jeans and synthetic fabrics — can create a perfect environment for it. Over-use of antibiotics may also mean that re-occurrences of thrush are more common, notes Women's Health, because candida is getting better at fighting the antibiotics used to treat it. Want to avoid thrush? Try to wear loose clothing made of breathable fabrics, even when it's chilly.
During cold weather, the body works harder to maintain normal temperature and function, and that can put strain on the heart. As a result, heart attacks can be more common in winter months, as are strokes. If you have any personal or family history of heart issues, the cooler months are a time to pay attention to cardiovascular health and check in with your GP. The signs of heart attacks in women are often different to the ones you might have seen on TV — women may experience nausea, sweating, back and jaw pain, and shortness of breath — so be aware and seek help if you start to feel these, or any other symptoms.
Raynaud's disease is a circulation disorder, in which the extremities, like fingers and toes, go white or blue because the blood vessels have spasmed. Winter, understandably, is when symptoms really start to show up. Raynaud's disease can be a result of other medications, like beta blockers, or appear on its own without any underlying other cause. Though it's a year-round disease, you'll notice whether you have it as a result of cooler temps. It appears to be more common in colder climates and in people whose close relatives also have it.
Gastroenteritis, or stomach flus, tend to flare up over the winter season, including norovirus, also known as the "winter vomiting bug." While you might think summer, with its warm weather and unrefrigerated picnic food, might lead to more cases of this illness, having this bug over the winter is surprisingly common. A study in 2009 found that the norovirus itself isn't affected by cold temperatures, and if you have a weakened immune system already — and are spending a lot of time at holiday parties or crammed into public transport to avoid the cold — its spread becomes more likely. It also survives well in low levels of sunlight.
To avoid getting a tummy bug over the holiday period, it's a good idea to practice impeccable hygiene: wash your hands, and if somebody else is sick, stay away from them until they're better, as norovirus in particular is highly contagious.
This illness might not trip off the tongue, but according to a study in 2014, it spikes in the U.S. every winter — because of hot tubs. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and other bacteria are spread through exposure to warm water, and people who dip into shared hot water spaces like hot tubs in winter are risking bacterial infections. Its other name is actually hot-tub rash, and it causes inflammation of the skin, eyes, ears or other places it encounters. Hot tubs might look sexy in To All The Boys I've Loved Before, but stay out of them in winter — and shared baths and hot spas — unless you know they're spotless.
The precise relationship between higher incidences of migraine and cooler weather remains mysterious. The National Headache Foundation notes that people who identify themselves as "temperature sensitive" are likely to get winter migraines, and it's possible that different factors increase migraines in cold weather, including lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and shifts in air pressure. The glare of light off snow can also be a serious migraine trigger.
Though we all know winter is cold and flu season, these other illnesses can crop up when the temperature dips, too. Don't dismiss symptoms because it seems like a weird time of year — see your GP as soon as you can.