For many people, winter is a welcome time of year. But for people with certain diseases like arthritis, it can be a pain—literally. While cold weather doesn’t cause arthritis or most other conditions that get worse when temperatures drop, it can cause problems for people who have them. If you’ve got one of these conditions, here’s what you need to know to survive winter’s chill.
As the weather changes, so can the pressure in your joints. The expanding tissues put pressure on the joint. People can actually feel changes in air pressure in their joints, which is why some people say they can predict the weather by the pain in their joints. Bundle up from head to toe in several layers, preheat the car before getting into it and make sure your home or apartment is kept warm. If it is too cold sleep under an electric blanket, warm clothing in the dryer before dressing and drink warm or hot drinks, such as coffee, tea or hot chocolate.
It’s also important to keep moving. Try exercising the affected joints before going out in the cold weather. It also helps to maintain a regular exercise program year round. Exercise will not only loosen stiff joints, but will help prevent winter weight gain that puts more stress on painful joints.
Joint stiffness isn’t the only problem low temperatures can cause. Raynaud’s disease is a condition in which the blood vessels quickly narrow, reducing the flow of blood and causing the skin on the fingers, toes and even the nose to temporarily turn white, then bluish. As blood flow returns, the skin turns red and becomes painful. In rare severe cases, Raynaud’s can cause skin sores or tissue death (gangrene) at the tips of the fingers and toes.
People with Sjögren’s syndrome need to add moisture back into the environment when the air is dry. Run a humidifier to raise the humidity level in your home and use lotions after bathing to keep skin moist. Use artificial tears for dry eyes and keep a water bottle on hand to sip to relieve dry mouth. Be careful about using mouthwashes with alcohol or over-the-counter cold remedies, either of which can worsen dryness.
Many prescription medications, including antidepressants and high blood pressure medications, can also cause dry mouth. If you’re taking these medications and having trouble with dry tissues, ask your doctor about the possibility of changing your medication or combating dryness with other treatments. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a medication to increase saliva flow or recommend a simple medical procedure to block the drainage of tears out of your eyes, leaving more natural tears in the eyes to moisten and lubricate them.
If you have difficulty breathing, try a face mask when you need to go out in the cold. Such masks, which can be found at many outdoor and sporting goods stores, cover your mouth and use the heat from your own breathing to warm the air before it enters your lungs.
If you have symptoms brought on by cold weather, be sure to mention them to your doctor.
Read more articles on Arthritis.