Lifestyle & Health : How weather affects health
As we approach this unpredictable period during August to November of hurricanes and weather changes (hot and hotter, rainy and humid versus dry and dusty), there are a significant number of health conditions which will be affected by the changing weather conditions. Asthma, migraine, allergies, arthritis, heart conditions, depression and even suicides have been found to be affected by the weather.
ASTHMA AND ALLERGIES
• Thunderstorms are linked to an increase in asthma symptoms. Thunderstorms are usually associated with high winds which carry pollen grains into the airways, resulting in symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Pollen in the air often sets off allergic asthma.
• Changes in temperature and changes in atmospheric humidity can also trigger asthma by causing congestion and irritation to the respiratory tract.
• Rain can impact allergies positively as rain takes the pollen out of the air.
• Dry, sunny days following rain can result in rapid plant growth and release of pollen, which is then associated with nasal congestion, stuffiness and sneezing.
Allergic rhinitis occurs with stormy, thunderstorms, while non-allergic rhinitis is brought on by changes in temperature and humidity. People with non-allergic rhinitis do not respond to antihistamines but react better to nasal irrigation, nasal steroids or decongestants. The weather is also a trigger for asthma and causes inflamed airways. Cold weather also worsens exercise-induced asthma as the cold air breathed in does not get a chance to warm up and the cooling of the airways causes them to become inflamed and swollen.
Storms are associated with a worsening of migraine and several individuals complain of this headache as a storm approaches. This is because of changes in the barometric pressure. It is thought that more than 50 per cent of migraine sufferers have a weather trigger. Common headaches triggers include:
• High or low humidity can trigger migraine headaches
• High or low temperatures can trigger migraine headaches
It is not clear why rising or falling barometric pressures causes migraine, but some researchers think the barometric changes also affect the pressure in the brain or the way the brain blocks pain.
Over 80 per cent of individuals suffering with arthritis complain of increased pain intensity with a drop in temperature or increasing humidity. Analgesics and heating pads can be used to alleviate the condition, while non-weight-bearing exercise will improve joint function.
Persons with heart disease already have narrowed heart (coronary) arteries. When conditions such as preparations for a hurricane, lead to unusual physical activity and increased stress, then a heart attack can be one outcome.
WEATHER AND MOOD
Temperature, wind and sunlight affect our mood.
• Hot, bright sunlight is associated with people feeling tired.
• High wind has a negative effect on mood.
• Shorter daylight hours are associated with an increase in depression.
A person who is 'weather-sensitive' will react with varying intensity to weather changes. The weather changes can affect the person's well-being and may worsen symptoms of pre-existing disorders, in particular pain! Some notable changes which can occur with changes in the weather are:
• Increased irritability
• Lack of concentration
• Sleep disorders
• Scar Pain
• Circulation irregularities
• Joint pains
Symptoms vary in different people and symptom intensity tends to increase with age, sickness and physical unfitness.
'seasonal affective disorder' (SAD) is a seasonal depression describing a condition in which the person finds their mood tied to the changing of the seasons. It is a condition which, in some circumstances, can be due to a lack of light getting to the brain. Light triggers chemical reactions in our brain that makes us happier and more alert. Sunlight increases the production of feel-good hormones in the brain and almost acts as an anti-depressant. However, in the situation where the person has SAD, the 'good feeling' effect can be amplified until it can get in the way of functioning in regular life activities. Too much light or dark is a problem.
Temperature also affects our mood. Cold times strain our immune systems as the body tries to warm up. When energy is being used to keep warm, it is not available for all other activities and lethargy could result as can more colds and flus as the immune system can become compromised. This could also result in a low mood which is also a symptom associated with flu. Adding extra vitamins and minerals to the diet, especially antioxidants like vitamins A, C, D, E, and fish oil help deter the effect of temperature on the body.
Sleep is also affected by the weather and becomes a problem when it is too hot or too cold. Lack of sleep eventually leads to depression.
Practise a healthy lifestyle - eating right, exercising enough and sleeping adequate number of hours. Practise yoga and relaxation techniques. This will keep you healthier and give you better control over your own body during the weather changes experienced day to day.
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