What effect do lower temperatures and cold weather have on your health?

One especially nasty trifecta of influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) foretold a harsh winter. But there’s another factor contributing to a potentially tough season for health: a colder-than-average season, forecast in the north. WE and UK.

Even a normal cold season can pose a threat to human health and safety. a 2015 research published in spear analysis of more than 74 million deaths around the world found that more than 7% of deaths were due to exposure to cold temperatures. “There is compelling evidence that there are many health risks associated with colds,” said Antonio Gasparrini, lead author of the study and a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Rising natural gas costs mean many families will struggle to afford to heat their homes, exacerbating the problem. “I am extremely worried. Especially in Europe, [many] Tiina Ikäheimo, a professor at Tromsø University, known as Norway’s Arctic University, says the houses are heated by natural gas. “[I’m especially worried] for those who cannot afford the necessary energy for their homes and for the elderly.”

Here’s what to know about how cold temperatures affect health.

How dangerous cold weather can be

One of the most dangerous things about cold temperatures is that they increase the risk of heart problems, such as heart attack and stroke, especially for people with diseases such as heart disease. This is the result of the body’s natural defense system that works when the temperature drops: to prevent heat loss to the environment, the blood vessels in the skin constrict, resulting in a natural increase in blood pressure. This happens suddenly when the body is cold, but the effects are long-lasting; People’s blood pressure tends to stay higher during the cold season, said Ikäheimo. This constriction of blood vessels also leads to more urination, which can cause dehydration if lost fluids are not replaced by drinking more water. These changes can cause the blood to thicken, increasing the risk of blood clots and forcing the cardiovascular system to work harder.

Cold can also have a strong impact on the respiratory system and worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Breathing in cold air can irritate the airways and cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and mucus secretion.

Read more: RSV cases are on the rise in children and infants. Things parents should know

Respiratory illnesses such as the flu and COVID-19 are also more prevalent in the winter. People tend to spend more time inside and congregate more often in homes and other indoor spaces in the winter, which allows the virus to spread. Some evidence also suggests that cold, dry weather can be ideal conditions for nasal and influenza viruses to spread, says Ikäheimo, which means the virus can survive longer and spread efficiently. more, says Ikäheimo.

Who is most susceptible to the health effects of low temperatures?

Exposure to cold temperatures is more dangerous for people with chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and Diabetes. Older adults tend to have a combination of other relevant risk factors may increase the risk of cold-related health effects. For example, during aging, metabolic systems slow down, subcutaneous fat thins, and internal systems are more susceptible to stress from sudden temperature changes.

Lower-income communities are also at higher risk than others. Lanikque Howard, director of the Office of Community Services at the Department of Children and Families, a division of the US Department of Health, said that in the US, low-income households spend three times as much as they earn. their income for energy compared to wealthier households. and Human Services, on November 2 Press Release.

On the same day, the Biden administration announced $4.5 billion in funding to help low-income Americans cover heating costs this winter.

Age UK, a charity that provides services to the elderly, said in a statement in September that 2.8 million households with people over 60 in the UK are expected to live in energy shortages this cold season — meaning they won’t be able to afford to heat properly. for his house. That’s 1.8 million more households than in 2021.

“In the UK we have the oldest housing stock in Europe,” which means homes are difficult to heat, said Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK. “People’s energy bills tend to go up at the best of times.” But because of rising energy costs, especially as Russia reduces its exports to Europe, “our bills go up so quickly, it’s overwhelming people. Even normal people who would never have to worry about things like how much it costs them to turn on the heating now have to worry about that.”

How to protect yourself

A surprising finding in Gasparrini’s study is that some countries have more cold deaths—but not necessarily because they are colder places. For example, in Sweden (which has colder winters than the UK), the death rate from colds is lower than in the UK Part of the reason is that the UK old housing warehouseNot suitable for cold weather. Sweden, meanwhilehave high thermal standards in buildings and enforce the rule where heating costs usually fixed and part of the rent, Unlike in the UK and other EU member states. Ikäheimo also points out that people who live in places accustomed to the cold have learned to adjust their behavior to protect themselves.

One modifiable way to protect yourself from the cold is to dress warmly. When you’re out and about, Ikäheimo says it’s important to wear adjustable layers: first, wear a foundation that absorbs moisture; then, put on an inner layer to insulate you; and finally, wear a waterproof outerwear that can protect you from wind, snow, and rain. In the cold indoor environmentShe says, add layers to protect your extremities—such as warm socks and scarves—and make sure your bedding is warm enough to keep you comfortable at night.

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