Doctors: Cold can worsen asthma, spread flu
Published 10:16 am, Thursday, January 24, 2013
That cold air sending a chill through your bones isn't going anywhere for the next several days. And doctors in the region said the frigid weather can have serious health consequences.
Temperatures in Stamford and the surrounding areas aren't expected to rise above the mid-20s until Sunday, when they are supposed to reach 30 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. On Thursday, the anticipated high is 20 degrees, but the wind chill will make it feel like minus-6 degrees.
There's also snow expected on Friday.
All those shivering temperatures could be hard on your health, according to some medical experts, as the cold could provide a hospitable environment for certain viruses -- including the flu.
More InformationKeeping your cool Tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on staving off cold-weather health concerns: Eat well-balanced meals. Don't drink alcoholic beverages or those with caffeine, as they can cause the body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain body temperature. Dress warmly when outdoors. Wear a hat, scarf, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens, a water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothes. Cold weather puts strain on the heart. Those with heart disease or high blood pressure should consult a doctor about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Dress warmly and work slowly while doing chores outside. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways and porches. Keep steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or other de-icers.
That can include flu, which is having a boom season in Connecticut and nationwide. Last week, the state Health Department reported there were nearly 2,500 confirmed cases of the flu so far this season, more than double what the state saw in the entire season last year, when there were 1,083 confirmed cases.
Dembry and others said the recent run of brisk weather could speed the spread of flu -- because we tend to spend more time indoors.
When you're in an enclosed space with the heat on and in close contact with other people and their germs, "you're kind of creating a little microcosm for flu to perpetuate," said Frank Scifo, medical director of the St. Vincent's Medical Center multispecialty group.
To help keep flu, colds and other viruses from spreading, experts advise washing hands frequently, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and avoiding those with symptoms.
Pearl said the key times for hand-washing are before eating, after using the bathroom and when coming in from outside. Scrubbing up then should help to limit the spread of disease, he said.
Bitter temperatures could also exacerbate chronic conditions, such as asthma or heart trouble.
"Certainly, inhaling cold, dry winter air can be a trigger for certain respiratory problems," Scifo said.
That includes asthma. This week, in reaction to the icy weather, the Naugatuck Valley Health District sent out a fact sheet warning residents of the link between cold weather and asthma. According to the district, cold weather, along with winter sports such as sledding, skiing and skating can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms.
The district recommends wearing a scarf over your mouth and nose to help warm the air you inhale.
The cold can also be tough on those with heart problems, Scifo said. Blood vessels can constrict when it's cold, causing blood pressure to go up and the heart to work harder. That's part of the reason why doctors always advise that you not overdo it when shoveling snow, particularly when your body isn't used to a lot of exertion.
Last but not least, frostbite is a major cold-related health concern, particularly among the elderly. Scifo said older people are more sensitive to the cold and need to be careful to bundle up before venturing out into winter weather.
"They may not even realize how cold it is and could expose themselves to conditions that could cause frostbite," Scifo said.
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