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Allergic to the Cold

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It’s possible to be allergic to many different types of things, including cold temperatures.

The medical term for hives that form on the skin when it’s exposed to the cold is cold urticaria (CU). A severe acute allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, is possible if you have CU.

You may be allergic to the cold if you notice changes to your skin or other symptoms after exposure to frigid temperatures. This condition may appear suddenly and resolve itself over time.

There are ways to manage the condition. You may even be able to prevent symptoms from occurring.

Read on to learn more about cold urticaria.

What are the symptoms?

Non-life-threatening but serious symptoms of cold urticaria can include:

  • hives, which are red, itchy, raised welts at the site of cold exposure
  • a burning sensation on the affected skin as your body warms
  • swelling at the site of exposure
  • fever
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • fatigue
  • anxiety

Severe symptoms of a cold urticaria that require immediate medical attention may include:

The appearance of CU symptoms can vary. You may find that symptoms occur almost immediately (2 to 5 minutes) after exposure to cold temperatures. Symptoms may disappear in 1 to 2 hours.

Other times, the reaction may begin long after cold exposure, within hours or a couple of days, and could take up to 2 days to go away. Your condition may be inherited if you experience delayed CU symptoms.

What causes cold urticaria?

CU can occur for many reasons, including:

  • going outside in frigid weather
  • swimming or bathing in cold water
  • entering a space that’s air-conditioned or kept at cool temperatures, like a walk-in freezer

In general, the temperature you’re exposed to has to be less than 39°F (4°C) to develop symptoms.

If you have cold urticaria, exposure to these cold temperatures causes your body to release histamines, which triggers symptoms.

Who’s at risk?

CU most often develops in both men and women as young adults.

About half of people who have the condition, as time goes on, will either have significant symptom improvement or not experience any more CU within 6 years.

CU can be inherited from a family member. It can also occur in people with no family history. Symptoms may also be triggered by a specific illness, such as:

Most often, symptoms may appear seemingly out of nowhere, with no obvious underlying trigger other than exposure to the cold.HEALTHLINE RESOURCETRANSFORM: Health Equity

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How is it diagnosed?

See your doctor if you’re experiencing what appears to be cold urticaria with exposure to the cold for the first time.

This will allow your doctor to diagnose your symptoms. There are some conditions that have similar symptoms. It’s important to rule those out.

Seek medical care immediately if your symptoms are severe.

During your doctor’s visit, be prepared to discuss your symptoms and health history. Your doctor will also do a physical exam.

They may also perform an ice cube challenge test to observe your body’s reaction to cold temperatures.

During this test, the doctor will apply an ice cube in a plastic bag to your body for a few minutes and then see if hives or other symptoms occur.

Your skin may not immediately react to this test if you inherited the condition. Symptoms of inherited CU may take at least 20 — or even 30 — minutes to appear.

Your doctor may also order blood tests to determine or rule out underlying causes of your symptoms.

What conditions may cause similar symptoms?

A proper diagnosis for CU is necessary because other conditions may cause similar symptoms.

Chilblains

Chilblains is a vascular condition that causes very small blood vessels to become inflamed when exposed to cold air. Symptoms may include:

  • red skin
  • itching
  • swelling

They usually resolve within a few weeks.

Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease primarily affects your fingers and toes. People with this condition have blood vessel constriction that causes an interruption in the flow of blood to their extremities.

Symptoms include pain and paleness or blueness of the skin in the affected areas following exposure to cold temperatures. Symptoms can last minutes or hours.

Cold agglutinin disease

In people with cold agglutinin disease, the body attacks its red blood cells in response to their blood temperature falling to a lower temperature than their regular body temperature.

This condition can result in hemolytic anemia. It’s often associated with

Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria

Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria is a rare type of anemia. In people with this condition, antibodies in the body attack and kill healthy red blood cells. It’s considered an autoimmune condition.

Symptoms may include:

  • discolored or dark-brown colored urine
  • fever
  • abdominal pain
  • fatigue
  • difficulty breathing with physical exertion
  • paleness

Paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria occurs more commonly in children.

How’s it treated?

Treatment will focus on reducing or managing symptoms.

Depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to manage your condition before or after cold exposure.

Medications like antihistamines can prevent or minimize the release of histamines when exposed to the cold.

Your condition may not respond to antihistamines. It may require another approach.

2019 study found that taking 150 to 300 mg of omalizumab (Xolair) every 4 weeks was effective in treating CU that did not respond to antihistamines.

Your doctor may also recommend other medications to treat CU, including:

  • corticosteroids
  • synthetic hormones
  • antibiotics
  • leukotriene antagonists
  • other immunosuppressants

You may need to carry injectable epinephrine, for example EpiPen, if you experience severe or life-threatening symptoms, such as anaphylaxis, from cold exposure.

Tips for prevention

The best way to prevent cold urticaria and a possible allergic reaction to cold is to avoid exposure to cold temperatures. But this may not always be possible.

Some ways to reduce your chance of developing symptoms include:

  • Wear protective clothes during cold-weather months, like warm jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves. Try to expose as little skin as possible to cold temperatures.
  • Test the temperature of water before submerging yourself in it and avoid frigid water. If you enjoy swimming in pools, look for a pool that is heated, even in warm weather.
  • Bath and shower in warm water.
  • Drink beverages that are room temperature and don’t contain ice.
  • Skip cold foods like ice cream and other frozen treats.
  • Take a prescription medication, like an antihistamine, prior to being in the cold if your doctor recommends it.

What’s the outlook?

Experiencing a reaction from cold exposure may be a symptom of an allergy. Talk to your doctor about how to manage CU to avoid unwanted symptoms in the future.

CU may resolve itself within a few years. If your condition doesn’t resolve itself, talk with your doctor.

They can work with you to create a plan that helps you avoid the cold, as well as develop a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms.

CU symptoms may be life-threatening, so seek immediate medical care if you:

  • have difficulty breathing
  • experience other severe symptoms

Also, seek immediate medical care for someone you know if they have CU symptoms and experience loss of consciousness.

Last medically reviewed on August 26, 2019

 7 sourcescollapsed

FEEDBACK:

Medically reviewed by Stacy Sampson, D.O. — Written by Natalie Silver on August 26, 2019

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YesNoHEALTH NEWSFact Checked

How Extremely Cold Weather Can Affect Your Health

Snow and freezing temperatures have hit the East Coast. Weather like this can put your health at risk in many ways, but you can take steps to protect yourself.

polar vortex is blasting the U.S. Midwest and Northeast this week, subjecting millions of Americans to dangerous subzero temperatures.

The extreme cold is expected to smash dozens of records in the Midwest and Great Lakes region. Temperatures there will drop to 20-40 degrees below zero, with winds chills of 35-60 below.

Heavy snow, including blizzard conditions in the Dakotas, will make traveling “dangerous to impossible” throughout the area, reports the National Weather Service.

The snow will even reach as far south as Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama — just in time for Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to stay put, you can watch this winter show from the comfort of your warm house or apartment. But the moment you venture outside, this kind of extreme weather can put your health at risk in a number of ways.”

For those who haven’t really lived through a harsh winter, extreme cold is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

Just ask Jennifer McCallum, a writer and composer who spent a year living in Antarctica, where the temperature during the third week of October was –65˚F (–54˚C) and later dropped to –107˚F (–77˚C).

“When I stepped off the plane onto the Antarctic Plateau, the cold greeted me like angry black flies with razor-blade teeth,” McCallum told Healthline. “I quickly learned to not directly breathe in the air, which would burn my lungs.”

She and scientist John Bird describe their experiences in the book “One Day, One Night: Portraits of the South Pole.”

But even less extreme cold weather can be harmful. Here are the top dangers.

Frostbite. This results from cold temperatures damaging parts of your body, most often your ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes.

Frostbitten skin may look white or gray and can feel hard or waxy. Blisters can form. You may also have trouble moving that part of your body. In severe cases, the skin will turn black.

Hypothermia. This conditionoccurs when your body temperature drops below 95˚F (35˚C). This results from your body losing more heat than it can make, such as when you are exposed to cold or water.

Hypothermia can show up as shivering, clumsiness, confusion, tiredness, or urinating more than usual. If not treated quickly, hypothermia can cause severe health problems, including death.

Heart problems. Cold weather can increase your risk of a heart attack. When you’re outside in the cold, your heart works harder to keep you warm — leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure.

This can cause heart problems, especially if you have an existing heart condition. If you aren’t used to regular exercise, strenuous activities like shoveling snow may put you at risk for a heart attack.

Less obvious effects

Getting lost in a whiteout. McCallum said whiteouts were a big challenge in Antarctica. “We once lost two electricians,” she said, “who fortunately found their way back.”

Even outside of Antarctica, blizzard-like conditions can make it impossible to find your way back to safety if you get lost.

Dry skin and mucus membranes. These are common in the winter. Winter air is usually quite dry, and that can suck the moisture out of your body.

Adam Gilla weather observer and IT specialist for the Mount Washington Observatory, located on top of 6,288-foot Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, knows this all too well.

“Indoor relative humidity frequently falls down to 1 percent in the winter,” Gill told Healthline. “If you don’t have a humidifier, then you wake up feeling like you are getting sick, but that will usually improve within a few hours of waking up.”

Balance. When it’s cold outside, there’s bound to be ice — which means more chances of falling and getting injured. Older people are more at risk of injury, but anyone can get hurt if they slip on icy sidewalks or stairs.

Strong winter winds can make it even harder to stay upright on ice. Check out this video of Gill battling 100 mph winter winds on top of Mt. Washington.

Being sedentary. When cold weather goes on and on, you may end up binge watching television for days or weeks. This kind of sedentary behavior can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, and other health issues.

“I have gotten more out of shape, since we cannot spend an extended amount of time outdoors in winter,” said Gill. “I do take advantage of nicer days and get outside for a while, but much less than in the summer.”

Loading up on snack foods. When the cold weather sets in, you may find yourself craving salty, sweet, or fat-filled comfort foods as your body tries to keep itself warm.

“Chocolate chip cookies were the favorite cookie at the station,” said McCallum. “And people experienced an incredible amount of stress over the need to ration chocolate chips.”

Staying safe in extreme winter

Living on top of the tallest mountain in the eastern United States, Gill knows how important it is to stay warm in the winter.

“Living here, especially in the winter, can be challenging, but with the right precautions it isn’t too bad,” said Gill. “All of the staff up here have to bundle up quite a bit before venturing outside — especially when the temperature starts to get down to –65˚F or colder — largely due to the consistent strong winds we see.”

McCallum spent many nights outside taking pictures of the sky over Antarctica, which meant dressing warmly… and creatively.

“We could be outside quite a while, as long as we had no skin showing,” said McCallum, “which involved artfully sealing ourselves with an assortment of head and neck coverings, goggles, and parka.”

Here are some tips to help you stay warm when the temperature plummets and the wind roars:

  • Wear several layers of lightweight and warm clothing so you can adjust as you warm up or cool down. Loose-fitting clothes trap warm air better than tight-fitting ones. The topmost layer should be water and wind resistant.
  • Mittens are always warmer than gloves. If you’re exercising, your hands may be warm enough with just gloves, but take along mittens or another pair of gloves that fit over those for when you stop moving.
  • Cover your head and face with a hat and scarf or mask to protect your skin. Wear sunglasses or goggles to protect your eyes.
  • Wear warm, waterproof boots with good tread to prevent slips and falls. If the ice is really bad, you can put traction cleats or crampons onto your boots.

Staying safe in extreme cold, though, also means thinking ahead.

“Beyond knowing how cold and windy it is, you need to plan what you will be doing outside, and how long you will be out,” said McCallum. “You also need to think about the quickest route back inside should you freeze your hands too much.”

She also said that if you go outside alone, let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.

And pay attention to those you are with.

If you or someone else shows signs of hypothermia or heart or breathing problems, seek medical help immediately.

For frostbite, move to a warm place and take off any wet clothing. Use warm — not hot — water or body heat to warm the affected areas. Don’t rub the skin. If symptoms don’t get better, go to a hospital.

“If my fingers or toes went numb, I was quick to head inside and take care of them,” said McCallum.

Cold weather myths

Not everything you learned as a child about winter is correct. Here are a few of the most common myths.

Myth: Not wearing a coat will make you sick. While colds and flu are common in the winter, it’s not due to the weather. Some researchers say cold viruses replicate better in cold weather, while others say frosty weather can dry out the mucous membranes in your nose.

Myth: You lose most of your heat from your head. Your head is just another extremity. A 2008 articleTrusted Source in The BMJ puts the heat loss from your head closer to 10 percent. So don’t try going outside in the winter with just a hat for protection.

Myth: You shouldn’t exercise outside when it’s cold. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), if you’re in good health, you shouldn’t have any trouble exercising outside in the winter — as long as you’re dressed appropriately. If you have heart, lung, or other health problems, check with your doctor first before exercising outside.

Myth: You don’t need sunglasses in the winter. Although the sun is less intense in areas that have winter, there are still enough rays to damage your eyes.

“It was imperative to always be wearing tinted goggles or sunglasses,” said McCallum, “as you would quickly develop snow-blindness.”

Myth: Cold weather makes you SAD. Although many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the winter, it’s more due to the lack of sunlight than the cold.

“The danger of cold was always present and the most serious threat to our safety,” said McCallum. “However, the dark, the isolation, and the confinement were much more of an everyday challenge.”

This was made worse by the sun being absent all day long for six months in the winter.

Some people, though, actually like the cold.

“Many of us enjoy the terrible and cold weather we see, so that helps keep moods high,” said Gill. “Isolation can get to you the most rather than the cold because once we get to work, we are here for a week at a time.”

For McCallum and the many scientists living together at “one of the most pristine places on Earth,” the South Pole contains extraordinary beauty that makes the cold, dark days worthwhile.

“One theme that repeatedly arises in our book is the comfort I took from the extreme weather — the cold, the whipping wind,” said McCallum. “It was something physical I could lean into and an emotional parallel to our challenging living conditions.”FEEDBACK:

What is cold-induced asthma?

If you have asthma, you may find that your symptoms are affected by the seasons. When the temperature dips, going outside can make breathing more of a chore. And exercising in the cold can bring on symptoms such as coughing and wheezing even faster.

Here’s a look at what causes cold-induced asthma and how to prevent attacks during the winter months.

What’s the connection between cold weather and asthma?

When you have asthma, your airways (bronchial tubes) swell up and become inflamed in response to certain triggers. Swollen airways are narrower and can’t take in as much air. That’s why people with asthma often have trouble catching their breath.

Winter is an especially hard time for people with asthma. A Chinese study from 2014 found that hospital admissions for asthma increased during the winter months. And in the cold climate of the north of Finland, up to 82 percent of people with asthma experienced shortness of breath when they exercised in cold weather.

When you work out, your body needs more oxygen, so your breathing speeds up. Often, you breathe through your mouth to take in more air. While your nose has blood vessels that warm and humidify the air before it reaches your lungs, air that travels directly through your mouth remains cold and dry.

Exercising outdoors in cold weather delivers cold air rapidly to your airways. It also appears to increase your likelihood of having an asthma attack. What is it about the cold air that triggers asthma symptoms?

Why does cold air affect asthma symptoms?

Cold air is hard on asthma symptoms for several reasons.

Cold air is dry

Your airways are lined with a thin layer of fluid. When you breathe in dry air, that fluid evaporates faster than it can be replaced. Dry airways become irritated and swollen, which worsens asthma symptoms.

Cold air also causes your airways to produce a substance called histamine, which is the same chemical your body makes during an allergy attack. Histamine triggers wheezing and other asthma symptoms.

Cold increases mucus

Your airways are also lined with a layer of protective mucus, which helps remove unhealthy particles. In cold weather, your body produces more mucus, but it’s thicker and stickier than normal. The extra mucus makes you more likely to catch a cold or other infection.

You’re more likely to get sick or be indoors when it’s cold

Coldsflu, and other respiratory infections tend to circulate during the winter months. These infections are also known to set off asthma symptoms.

Cold air can also drive you indoors, where dustmold, and pet dander flourish. These allergens trigger asthma symptoms in some people.

What precautions should people with asthma take?

Make sure your asthma is under control before winter arrives. See your doctor to develop an asthma action plan and then take the medicines your doctor prescribes. You may take medicine every day (for long-term control) or just when you need it (for quick relief).

Long-term controller medicines are drugs you take every day to manage your asthma symptoms. They include:

  • inhaled corticosteroids, such as fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA)
  • long-acting beta-agonists, such as salmeterol (Serevent Diskus)
  • leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast (Singulair)

Note: Long-acting beta-agonists are always used alongside inhaled corticosteroids.

Quick-relief medicines are drugs that you only take when you need them, such as before exercising in the cold. Short-acting bronchodilators and anticholinergics are examples of these drugs.HEALTHLINE RESOURCETRANSFORM: Health Equity

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How can you avoid asthma attacks in the cold?

To prevent asthma attacks, try to stay indoors when the temperature dips very low, especially if it’s below 10°F (-12.2°C).

If you do have to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf to warm the air before you breathe it in.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Drink extra fluids in the winter. This can keep the mucus in your lungs thinner and therefore easier for your body to remove.
  • Try to avoid anyone who appears to be sick.
  • Get your flu vaccine early in the fall.
  • Vacuum and dust your home often to remove indoor allergens.
  • Wash your sheets and blankets every week in hot water to get rid of dust mites.

Here are some ways to prevent asthma attacks when you exercise outdoors in cold weather:

  • Use your inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise. This opens up your airways so you can breathe easier.
  • Carry an inhaler with you in case you have an asthma attack.
  • Warm up for at least 10 to 15 minutes before you work out.
  • Wear a mask or scarf over your face to warm the air you breathe in.

What else can cause an attack?

Cold is just one of many asthma triggers. Other things that can set off your symptoms include:

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What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

You know you’re having an asthma attack because of symptoms such as:

What can you do if you’re having an asthma attack?

If you start to wheeze or feel short of breath, refer to the asthma action plan you wrote up with your doctor.

If your symptoms are so severe that you can’t speak, take your quick-acting medicine and seek immediate medical attention. You may need to stay under observation until your breathing stabilizes.

Here are some other general guidelines for what to do if you have an asthma attack:

  • Take two to six puffs from a quick-acting rescue inhaler. The medicine should open up your airways and help you breathe easier.
  • You may also be able to use a nebulizer instead of an inhaler. A nebulizer is a machine that turns your medicine into a fine mist that you breathe in.
  • If your symptoms aren’t severe but they don’t improve with the first few puffs from your inhaler, wait 20 minutes and then take another dose.
  • Once you feel better, call your doctor. You may need to keep taking your quick-acting medicine every few hours for a day or two.

What’s the takeaway for people with asthma?

Your asthma attack should subside once you’ve come in out of the cold and taken your medicine.

If your symptoms don’t improve or they seem to get worse whenever you’re out in the cold, you may need to see your doctor to review your asthma action plan. They may recommend changing medicines or coming up with other strategies for managing your condition.

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What are winter allergies? 

Feeling the sting of allergies more sharply than usual this season?

Winter allergy symptoms are really just your run-of-the-mill seasonal allergy symptoms. But because of the colder and harsher weather typical of the winter season, you’re more likely to spend more time indoors and increase your exposure to indoor allergens.

Some of the most common indoor allergens that can trigger your winter allergies include:

The best way to relieve allergy symptoms is to take preventive measures. But you can still get relief for your allergy symptoms even if your symptoms are already at their worst.

Read on for some tips on what indoor allergens to watch out for, what symptoms you might experience, what you can do to treat and prevent allergy symptoms, and more — including how to tell the difference between winter allergies and a cold.

Allergies vs. cold 

Allergies and colds have much different sources. Colds result from a virus that’s spread by someone who’s already infected. Allergies result from your body’s release of histamine that creates an inflammatory response to allergens or other irritants.

A cold also ends once your body fights off the infection. Allergies can happen anytime you’re exposed to allergens that get into your respiratory tract. Symptoms last as long as you keep breathing in the allergens.

Here’s the detailed breakdown:

ColdAllergies
Lasts several days
up to two weeks
Lasts several days
to months or longer
Can happen anytime during the year
(but more common in winter and spring)
Can happen anytime
during the year
Symptoms appear a
few days after infection
Symptoms appear right
after exposure to allergens
Can cause body aches
and fever
No body aches or fever
Causes a cough, runny nose,
and stuffiness
Causes a cough, itchy eyes,
runny nose, and stuffiness
Usually causes a sore throatSore throat not common
Doesn’t cause eye
watering and itching
Often causes eye
watering and itching
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Treatments

Allergy symptoms can be easily treated at home, but can also benefit from long-term clinical treatments. Here are some of your options:

  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication. Antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or fexofenadine (Allegra), can relieve symptoms effectively when taken regularly. OTC medications with acetaminophen (Tylenol), such as Zyrtec-D, can help with related symptoms like headaches.
  • Use a neti pot or nasal irrigation treatment. These treatments work by sending clean, distilled water through your nasal passages to clear out allergens.
  • Use nasal sprays. Prescription-strength steroid nasal sprays, such as fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort), can help relieve inflammation and other symptoms like a runny nose. These can now be purchased over the counter.
  • Get allergy shots (immunotherapy). For severe, chronic allergy symptoms, ask your doctor about allergy shots. These work by exposing you to very small amounts of your allergens regularly to build up your body’s immunity to them. This leads to much less severe symptoms over the course of several years.

 Prevention

Try the following to minimize your exposure to indoor allergens common during the winter:

  • Put special protective casing over your bedding, including your pillows and mattresses, to keep dust mites out.
  • Regularly wash your clothes, bedding, and any removable upholstery covers in hot water to reduce dander and dust mite build-up.
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in your indoor air. An ideal humidity level is around 30 to 50 percent.
  • Regularly vacuum your home. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove the majority of the allergen particles from most surfaces.
  • Take out carpeting and replace it with linoleum, tile, or wood.
  • Clean any areas with mold growth with water and a 5 percent bleach solution.
  • Clean up any leftovers or crumbs in your kitchen or dining area after you or your pets eat.
  • Fix any leaks in your bathroom, basement, roof, or pipes to stop moisture from building up and creating an environment for dust mites, mold, or roaches to thrive.
  • Seal cracks or openings in your doors, windows, or walls where roaches can get in or outdoor air can blow in.
  • Limit the time your pets spend indoors. If it’s not possible for them to stay outside, keep them out of places you spend a lot of time, such as your bedroom, living room, or kitchen.

Is there a connection?

Does cold weather make you sick? For centuries, this myth has led grandmothers to insist that kids sit away from drafts, keep a hat on in cold weather, and avoid going outside with wet hair.

But if this is a myth, why do colds and the flu peak in the winter? The answers are complex and fascinating.

The culprits

In terms of infectious illnesses, germs make you sick, not cold weather itself. You have to come in contact with rhinoviruses to catch a cold. And you need to be infected with influenza viruses to contract the flu.

Rhinoviruses peak in spring and fall, and influenza viruses peak in winter.

While the cold can’t be the only reason, there is a connection between being chilled and getting sick: cold air may contribute to conditions that lead to illness.

Viruses and the immune system

Some viruses are actually more likely to spread during cold weather. Rhinovirus (the cause of the common cold) replicates better at cooler temperatures, such as those found in the nose (33° to 35° Celsius) compared to the body core temperature (33° to 37° Celsius).

However, one studyTrusted Source found that immune system cells initiate a more robust antiviral defense at lung temperature versus nasal cavity temperature. This might mean that the body may not fight the virus as well if the temperature in the nose and upper airway is lowered by environmental cold.

Some studiesTrusted Source assert that influenza virus is most stable in cool, dry temperatures. However, other studies show that the disease is also prevalent in humid, warm climates. Other factors suggested as potentially affecting immune response include sudden changes in temperature or the impact of dark and light cycles.

But the bottom line is that cold doesn’t cause illness, although weather or other factors may weaken your ability to fight off illness.

Central heating

Cold air forces you inside where it’s warm. Dry air associated with central heating makes it easy for cold and flu viruses to get into your dry nasal passages.

But thoughts on whether this theory is correct are divided.

Indoor humidity and ventilation

Dry indoor air itself doesn’t get you sick. But it may play a role in letting aerosol droplets from a sneeze survive and prosper.

Researchers at Tianjin UniversityTrusted Source in China found that students in dorm rooms with poor ventilation caught more colds.

Additionally, researchers at Virginia TechTrusted Source found that good ventilation, as well as high relative humidity indoors, renders the influenza A virus inactive.

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The great outdoors

Dry air outdoors, as measured by absolute humidity, may also be linked to flu outbreaks. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Trusted Source, dry winter air allows the flu virus to survive and transmit itself.

Additional NIH researchTrusted Source suggests that the coating of a flu virus becomes tougher at temperatures close to freezing, making them more active, more resilient, and easier to transmit in the winter.

More clues to why you’re sniffling

It’s likely that being outside in cold weather inhibits the ability of mucus and nasal hairs to work disease agents out of your nose.

It’s also likely that when you get back inside in a room with the windows shut and people sniffling, you are more likely to be exposed to germs.

As people return to college, school, work, and day care in the fall, viruses find ideal conditions to hop from one host to another, before cold weather even sets in.

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The perils of hypothermia

Hypothermia is an emergency that requires immediate medical care. This condition occurs when your body loses too much heat. It can result from exposure to extremely cold weather and elements.

Exposure to cold temperatures can cause hikers, the homeless population, the very young, and the very old to begin to shiver, become confused, and even lose consciousness.

If you are in cold weather and encounter any of the following conditions, you’ll quickly face a medical emergency:

  • being exposed to a lot of wind or rain
  • becoming sweat-soaked
  • being submerged in water

If your body loses too much heat, get warm and get help.

Cold weather and asthmatics

If you like to run but have a history of asthma or upper respiratory conditions, cold weather can create problems. Warm up gradually before hitting your full stride outdoors and wear a neck gaiter over your mouth to help warm the air going into your lungs.

Also plan your route so you avoid likely triggers for your asthma, like leaf burning or chimney smoke.

Implications of the myth

People who truly believe cold weather causes infectious sicknesses may not understand how germs affect the body. While it’s important to protect against extreme temperatures for other reasons, they’re not the cause of illness.

Research at George Washington UniversityTrusted Source found that young children are more likely to believe that cold weather causes illness. This means that children may not understand the best way to prevent getting sick from colds and the flu.

Knowing how germs work can help health educators teach effective prevention of colds and the flu, such as promoting good hand hygiene.

Hot and Cold: Extreme Temperature Safety

Overview

If you’re planning to travel outdoors, be prepared to deal with all sorts of weather. This might mean extremely rainy days or extremely dry days, and from the hottest daytime hours to the coldest nights.

The human body has a normal core temperature between 97˚F and 99˚F, but on average, a normal body temperature is 98.6˚F (37˚C). To maintain this temperature without the help of warming or cooling devices, the surrounding environment needs to be at about 82˚F (28˚C). Clothes aren’t just for looks — they’re necessary to keep warm. You can usually bundle up in more layers during colder months, and you can use fans or air conditioners in warmer months to maintain a healthy core temperature.

In some cases, you may find yourself in an environment with extreme temperatures. It’s crucial to know what health concerns you may face as well as how to avoid any temperature-related health problems.

Extreme heat temperatures

First, note that the temperature reading on a thermometer is not necessarily the temperature that you should be concerned about. The relative humidity in your environment can affect the temperature you actually feel, which is called the “apparent temperature.” Some example scenarios include:

  • If the air temperature reads 85˚F (29˚C), but there’s zero humidity, the temperature will actually feel like it’s 78˚F (26 ˚C).
  • If the air temperature reads 85˚F (29˚C), with 80 percent humidity, it will actually feel like 97˚F (36˚C).

High environmental temperatures can be dangerous to your body. In the range of 90˚ and 105˚F (32˚ and 40˚C), you can experience heat cramps and exhaustion. Between 105˚ and 130˚F (40˚ and 54˚C), heat exhaustion is more likely. You should limit your activities at this range. An environmental temperature over 130˚F (54˚C) often leads to heatstroke.

Other heat-related illnesses include:

  • heat exhaustion
  • heatstroke
  • muscle cramps
  • heat swelling
  • fainting

Symptoms

Symptoms of heat-related illness depend on the type and the severity of the illness.

Some common symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • sweating heavily
  • exhaustion or fatigue
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • blacking out or feeling dizzy when standing up
  • weak but fast pulse
  • feelings of nausea
  • vomiting

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • reddish skin that feels hot to the touch
  • strong and fast pulse
  • losing consciousness
  • internal body temperature over 103˚F (39˚C)

Treatment

If someone loses consciousness and shows one or more of the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 911 right away.

To treat heat exhaustion, try to keep yourself cool with cold, damp cloths around your body and slowly take small sips of water until the symptoms begin to fade. Try to get out of the heat. Find some place with air conditioning or a lower temperature (especially out of direct sunlight). Rest on a couch or bed.

To treat heatstroke, cover yourself with cold, damp cloths or take a cold bath to normalize your body temperature. Get out of the heat immediately to a place with a lower temperature. Don’t drink anything until you (or the person experiencing heatstroke) receive medical attention.

Prevention

Stay well-hydrated to best avoid heat-related illness. Drink enough fluids so that your urine is light-colored or clear. Don’t rely solely on thirst as a guide to how much liquid you should be drinking. When you lose a lot of fluids or sweat profusely, be sure to replace electrolytes as well.

Wear clothing that is appropriate to your environment. Clothes that are too thick or too warm can quickly cause you to become overheated. If you feel yourself getting too hot, loosen your clothing or remove excess clothing until you feel cool enough. Wear sunscreen when possible to avoid sunburn, which makes it harder for your body to get rid of excess heat.

Try to avoid places that can get extremely hot, such as inside cars. Never leave another person, child, or pet, even for short periods of time.

Risk factors

Common risk factors that can cause you to be more susceptible to heat-related illness include:

  • being younger than 4 or older than 65
  • exposure to abrupt weather changes from cold to hot
  • being overweight or obese
  • taking medications such as diuretics and antihistamines
  • using illicit drugs such as cocaine
  • exposure to a high heat index (measurement of both heat and humidity)

Extreme cold temperatures

As with high temperatures, don’t rely solely on the thermometer reading of environmental air for gauging cold temperatures. The speed of the wind and external body moisture can cause a chill that dramatically changes your body’s rate of cooling and how you feel. In extremely cold weather, especially with a high wind chill factor, you can quickly experience the onset of hypothermia. Falling into cold water can also result in immersion hypothermia.

Some cold-related illnesses include:

In addition to these illnesses, winter weather can cause major inconveniences for travelers. Always be prepared to deal with heavy snow and extreme cold, whether you’re on the road or at home.

Symptoms

When your body first drops below 98.6˚F (37˚C), you may experience:

  • shivering
  • an increased heart rate
  • a slight decrease in coordination
  • an increased urge to urinate

When your body temperature is between 91.4˚ and 85.2˚F (33˚ and 30˚C), you’ll:

  • decrease or stop shivering
  • fall into a stupor
  • feel drowsy
  • be unable to walk
  • experience quick alternations between rapid heart rate and breathing too slowly
  • shallow breathing

Between 85.2˚ and 71.6˚F (30˚C and 22˚C), you’ll experience:

  • minimal breathing
  • poor to no reflexes
  • inability to move or respond to stimuli
  • low blood pressure
  • possibly coma

A body temperature below 71.6˚F (22˚C) can result in muscles becoming rigid, blood pressure becoming extremely low or even absent, heart and breathing rates decreasing, and it can ultimately lead to death.

Treatment

If someone passes out, shows multiple symptoms listed above, and has a body temperature of 95˚F (35˚C) or lower, call 911 immediately. Perform CPR if the person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse.

To treat hypothermia, get out of the cold as soon as possible and to a warmer environment. Remove any damp or wet clothing and start warming up the middle areas of your body, including your head, neck, and chest, with a heating pad or against the skin of someone with a normal body temperature. Drink something warm to gradually increase your body temperature, but don’t have anything alcoholic.

Even after you begin to feel warm again, stay dry and keep yourself wrapped up in a warm blanket. Seek medical help right away to minimize the harm to your body.

To treat frostbite, soak the affected area in warm water no hotter than 105˚F (40˚C) and wrap it in gauze. Keep any toes or fingers affected by frostbite separated from each other to avoid rubbing the areas against each other. Do not rub, use, or walk on frostbitten skin, as this can cause tissue damage. See your doctor if you still can’t feel anything on your frostbitten skin after 30 minutes.

Prevention

It’s essential to protect anyone experiencing early symptoms of hypothermia. If possible, remove them from the cold immediately. Don’t try to warm a person suffering from serious hypothermia with vigorous exercise or rubbing, as this can lead to further problems.

To prevent cold-related illness, take one or more of these measures when the temperature starts to drop:

  • eat substantial meals regularly and drink plenty of water
  • avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine
  • remain inside near a source of heat
  • wear a hat, beanie, or something similar on your head to retain heat and gloves or mittens on your hands
  • wear multiple layers of clothing
  • use lotion and lip balm to prevent dryness of your skin and lips
  • bring extra clothes to change into in case you get damp or wet
  • wear sunglasses when it’s snowing or extremely bright outside to avoid snow blindness

Risk factors

Common risk factors for hypothermia and frostbite include:

  • being younger than 4 or older than 65
  • consuming alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco
  • being dehydrated
  • exposing skin to extremely cold temperatures, especially when exercising and sweating
  • becoming damp or wet in cold temperatures

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