Winter Ailments

A winter ailment is a common term used to describe the various ailments that people tend to suffer from during the winter season. In the colder months of the year it isn’t uncommon for us to experience some kind of winter ailments due to the drop in temperatures. The human body needs time to adjust and adapt to changes whether in the form of dietary changes, geographical changes or climatic changes. Whenever there is a change in seasons, our body takes some time to adjust to these changes thus providing an opportunity for infections to attack the body. During such changes our immune system is weaker and therefore becomes more susceptible to a number of bacterial and viral infections. Generally when the external temperature falls during the colder months there is an increased incidence of winter ailments like colds, sore throats, coughs and influenza. Other examples of winter ailments include chest congestion, dry itchy skin, a runny nose, sinusitis and seasonal allergies. Cold winters aren’t just associated with increased infections, but individuals who suffer from conditions like asthma, rheumatism and arthritis are also more prone to severe bouts of symptoms. Most of these winter ailments become more prominent only during the cold season and start subsiding once the temperatures begin to rise.

Symptoms of Winter Ailments

Since a common cold and influenza have similar symptoms people usually tend to get confused between the two. However it is important to keep in mind that influenza is a more serious problem as compared to a common cold. While suffering from influenza a person may experience raised body temperature followed by chills or shivering. Aches and pains in different parts of the body are common and the person tends to start feeling lethargic. In comparison a person suffering from a common cold will usually experience symptoms like excessive sneezing, a running nose, fatigue, fever and appetite loss. Common colds generally last for a longer period anywhere between 4-14 days. Flu is another winter ailment where a person may experience high body temperature, weakness, fever and shivering, headaches, nausea and body pain. Flu tends to last from 7-10 days and generally occurs more suddenly as compared to a common cold. Many people also experience cold sores where small red patches appear on the skin. These patches may even itch and turn into blisters. Chilblain is another common winter ailment that is characterized by swelling of the fingers and toes. If the skin breaks it can even give rise to infections that can take up to 10 days to heal. Raynaud’s disease is another winter ailment that is common in very cold temperatures. It is more severe than frost bite and may result in the discoloration of the skin. This ailment tends to affects the fingers, toes, nose and ears. Most of these winter ailments can be diagnosed by a physician just by observing the symptoms they exhibit. Diagnosis of influenza however is not always completely straightforward. The symptoms of respiratory illnesses are also similar to those of influenza and hence many cases are misdiagnosed. An early and accurate diagnosis of influenza can help reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics and other medications. In many cases doctors even recommend a blood test to rule out other medical conditions which may be mimicking the symptoms of influenza. If left untreated for a long time influenza can also cause other problems like bacterial infections in the respiratory tract, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis and other lung infections.

Causes of Winter Ailments

Bacterial and viral infections are the main cause of winter ailments. Lack of sunlight and low temperatures in the cold seasons provide an ideal setting for viral and bacterial infections which can give rise to colds, coughs, sore throats, flu and other winter illnesses. Furthermore the body’s immunity also tends to get weakened during the colder season and therefore it is more susceptible to attacks from various viruses and bacteria. These infections are also highly contagious and can be passed on easily from one person to another by simple actions like coughing or sneezing. This is one of the main reasons why common colds and coughs spread so easily. People who suffer from various allergies also have a difficult time during the winter months. These allergies also tend to last longer because most people prefer staying indoors when the temperatures are lower. Winter ailments can affect people of all age groups but tend to affect older individuals sooner than others because of their lowered immunity. Even pregnant women and individuals who suffer from immune system disorders are more prone to winter ailments because of a weakened immunity. People who have unhealthy eating habits and follow a sedentary lifestyle are also more at risk from different types of winter ailments. Poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity can directly impact a person’s immunity and raise the risk of succumbing to winter diseases. Therefore it is very important to follow a healthy balanced diet that can provide the body with all the essential nutrients it needs to be strong and healthy. Regular exercise can also help a great deal to increase your general fitness levels, boost your immune and help prevent not just infections, but minimize allergic reactions as well. Winter ailments like chilblain can also be avoided with the help of a good diet and regular exercise.

Remedies for Winter Ailments

Self medication with over the counter drugs does help at times with minor illnesses, but this is not always advisable and in some cases may prove to do more damage than good. Many over the counter drugs that we commonly use are actually antibiotics. While doctors may prescribe antibiotics, these drugs are only meant for bacterial infections, and are best relied on only for more severe bacterial infections. Doctors also advise against over reliance on antibiotics as they can significantly weaken your immunity and may also cause bacterial resistance. Your best strategy to prevent or cope with winter ailments therefore would be to make diet and lifestyle changes, aimed at improving your immunity. Resting well during the winter season can help in strengthening immunity and therefore helps in avoiding illnesses. Simple precautions like washing your hands regularly, covering you mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing, avoiding crowded public places, where infections can spread easily are some of the ways to minimize the risk of winter illnesses. Using a good moisturizer or sun block lotion during colder weather also helps in avoiding dry itchy and cracking skin. Protecting your hands and feet by wearing warm gloves, socks and shoes is a great way of avoiding conditions like chilblain. Simple lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, cutting out fatty foods and alcoholic drinks and exercising regularly can help in boosting immunity and thereby help prevent winter ailments. Apart from the conventional treatment methods there are also a number of simple home remedies that can be very helpful in preventing and curing winter ailments. One of the best remedies for winter ailments like coughs and sore throats is to consume a teaspoon or two of ginger juice mixed with a pinch of turmeric and a teaspoon of honey. This mixture taken twice or thrice daily is a great remedy especially for coughs and sore throats. Regular intake of lemon balm is another great home remedy for common cold and flu. Blocked sinuses can be cleared with the help of eucalyptus or peppermint oil poured on a cotton ball and held near the nose. Steam inhalation and the use of moisturizers can also help with various winter ailments that cause dryness and inflammation of the nasal passages and throat. Herbal teas prepared by combining lemon, garlic, ginger, cayenne and shoyu with hot water are also an effective remedy for cold and coughs. Skin allergies during cold seasons can be treated by applying juice extracts of henna, basil and cassia. Ginkoba Biloba, fish oils, primrose oil, cayenne pepper can all be taken orally to strengthen the circulatory system and help prevent winter ailments. Sage leaves are also very helpful in soothing mucus membrane inflammations caused by influenza. Onion juice mixed with honey is a great way to get rid of chest congestion and cough.

Diet for Winter Ailments

A good diet plays a vital role in preventing and curing winter ailments as healthy foods help to boost immunity. Milk and dairy products contain vital bacteria that help in building immunity and therefore must be included in the daily diet. Fruits like oranges, berries, guavas, kiwis and melons are rich in vitamin C which is very helpful in fighting colds and flu. Green leafy vegetables also contain vital minerals and antioxidants that are very useful in treating winter ailments. Fruits such as apples, papayas and pomegranates, dried fruits, soups and stews are considered to be warm foods and should be had in plenty during the winter season to avoid winter illnesses. Simple recipes like tomato, spinach and other vegetable soups should be consumed regularly to boost immunity and keep winter ailments at bay. In addition to vitamin C, iron, vitamin A and selenium are essential nutrients that can help prevent winter illnesses. These can be taken through food sources or even in supplement form.

Suggestions for Winter Ailments

When a person suffers from winter ailments it is the primary responsibility of the caregiver to make sure that the person adheres to good eating habits and maintains personal hygiene to avoid further infections. It is also important to take medications on time and avoid excessive use of antibiotics. Self medication should also be discouraged and only prescription drugs should be administered to the patient.

Winter Ailments - Frequently asked questions