Temperatures are starting to drop, leaves are changing and pumpkin spice is everywhere you look. For most fall is the best time of year, a time that brings football, hoodies and Halloween. But for those with chronic illness or those who are immunocompromised fall can mean something entirely different. Fall means that the cold and flu season is upon us and we have to be more vigilant than ever to make sure we protect ourselves from illness. It almost seems unfair that we have to say goodbye to the wonderful summer temperatures and longer days, and also welcome the cooler temperatures that often bring increased pain and illness.
As we welcome the fall we also have to be prepared for all the germs that come with the change in seasons. We have to be proactive and do all we can to stay healthy. There are some that will argue that people & their germs make people sick and not the change in temperatures. While others disagree and say it is the change in temperatures that cause the illness. This age old argument will continue until the end of time, but the nerd in me finds it interesting to see what science has to say. Research shows that the viruses that cause people to get sick with things like the Rhino Virus (aka the common cold) or Influenza are spread more easily when the air conditions are more cool and dry. The cold air also causes your nasal passages to dry out more quickly and because of that the viruses are able to more easily able to adhere to the dry nasal passages and multiply. They quickly spread all through your body and make you feel sick. So technically it’s not the air temperature that makes you sick. But that cooler or colder air sure plays a BIG part in you getting sick.
As it gets cooler people are more apt to stay inside thus putting them in closer contact with other people. Close proximity is NEVER a good idea, especially as it gets colder because of the higher rates of infections in colder months. When there are more people in closer spaces you are more likely to get sick and get sick more often. That’s once reason why if you have kiddos in daycare or school you will see a rise in illnesses during periods of colder temperatures. Partially due to the fact that they aren’t able to go outside. And of course because EVERYTHING goes in their little ones mouths. As well as the fact that they don’t have the best hand hygiene. Rates of contagious illnesses are going to be found in higher rates in areas where people live or play in higher proximity to one another. So places like college dorms, nursing homes, prisons, daycares, schools or even hospitals. Simply because people are in close contact with a large number of others. Also because germs spread more easily when it’s colder even when it seems like ever precaution is taken to prevent the spread from happening. In fact this is the main reason why you may see hospitals or nursing homes put visitor restrictions in place during cold and flu season preventing anyone under fourteen, or anyone who has symptoms of an cold or flu like illness from visiting patients in the facility. Those individuals are more likely to spread the colds and flu bugs to those in the hospital or nursing homes which cold be deadly for some.
People who deal with any chronic conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, COPD or even asthma can be affected by changes in seasons and temperature. Significant changes in the air temperature can cause asthma flares as well as flares in pain. A person with underlying asthma or COPD may not be actually sick but as the seasons change and the temperatures drop but their symptoms may actually look like they have an infection due to inflammation and the weather changes. Those with chronic pain will often be impacted by changes in temperature and or barometric pressure. If you have any kind of pain causing condition like arthritis, lupus or fibromyalgia chances are you will have increased pain when the weather starts getting cold. The more you pay attention to the weather and your health, the more you will be be prepared and be able to effectively handle your health properly.
No matter the cause of your symptoms, whether they are from a cold, the flu, or even seasonal allergies. There are ways you can prevent those germs from spreading and to keep you and your family as healthy as completely possible.
HAND WASHING is the simplest way to prevent the spread of germs. One key point to remember about hand washing is to remember that you need to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds under hot water. ALSO, the other thing people often don’t think about is that you should NEVER touch the handle to turn off the sink, or open any public bathroom door with your bare hand. Doing so negates washing your hands completely. So always use a paper towel to turn off the sink and open the bathroom door. Make sure that you are washing your hands before and after preparing food as well as before eating, after using the bathroom and changing a diaper. Also if your skin gets dry due to the colder temps and frequent washing, use a moisturizing lotion to avoid cracks in the skin.
AVOID TOUCHING YOUR FACE Do your best to try to avoid touching your face. It is hard but it is also the main way that we become ill, as germs enter our body through our eyes, mouth, or nose. When you have germs on your hands you can easily infect yourself when you touch your face with your hands. Try to do your best to teach your kids to try to avoid touching their faces when you are out in public or around those that you know are sick.
USE HAND SANITIZERIf you can’t actually wash your hands with soap and water, the next best option is hand sanitizer. If you are out to eat, shopping or anywhere really, you are always coming in contact with germs. So using hand sanitizer is a good quick option until you can get to a sink and wash with soap and water!
GET YOUR FLU SHOTThis is controversial but getting the shot WILL NOT give you the flu. While it’s not always super effective it will lessen the effects of the flu should you get it. To me it’s worth getting it if it will lessen the impact it will have on me if I should get it.
Doing these things will not guarantee that you won’t get sick. But they will lessen your chances of catching something. But what can you do about your chronic Illness to prevent your condition from getting any worse, or from having a flare?!? Well, there are several things. First, you should continue with whatever you do as maintenance for your condition. Continuing that plan of care help minimize the effects you experience when the weather changes do happen. Next as mentioned above, you should get a flu shot. I realize that is controversial and not all people will agree with me on that. But research shows that the vaccine won’t protect a person from every respiratory illness, but it will protect you and those around you from getting the flu. Even if you aren’t in a HIGH-risk group the flu is still very highly contagious and you could potentially pass it on before you even feel like or know you are sick. Those around you and around anyone who is in the HIGH RISK group should also get their shots to help protect their loved ones.
While I LOVE fall and just about all things it brings, the colder weather is not really something I enjoy. Isn’t it nice to know that there is an actual link between the colder weather and your increased pain and cold symptoms? While the colder weather may not have directly caused the increase in symptoms it is nice to know that there is a reason. While fall brings a lot of good things like all things pumpkin, football, and the ability to wear sweatshirts. It also is the beginning of cold and flu season. So remember to always wash your hands, carry your hand sanitizer, and get the flu shot!! Do your best to keep you and your family healthy through the fall so you can enjoy all the good things.