Winter Diseases: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Prevention
Winter is here and it’s a quite busy time with exciting get-togethers, Thanksgiving, holiday parties and family dinners. However, as we get ready for the charming winters, it is also important that we don’t forget the unpleasant side of the season, such as the dip in temperature and other related factors that can lead to a multitude of health problems, also called winter diseases or seasonal diseases.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common seasonal diseases in winter along with their symptoms, prevention and treatment.
Types of Winter Diseases
People get sick with changing seasons as the shift in temperature causes viruses to flourish which then spread diseases. During the winter season, diseases can appear suddenly and leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic. For example, you can get a sore throat which can later turn into a severe infection making it quite painful to swallow food or water. Moreover, due to the cold season, your body cools down and even simple illnesses are difficult to heal.
Hence, it is recommended to take precautionary measures and avoid seasonal diseases in winter. Here is the list of winter illnesses and ways of their successful prevention and treatment.
The common cold is often regarded as a part and parcel of the colder months as it is widespread during that time. The reason is dry and cold climates offer the optimum conditions for the rhinovirus to replicate and thrive.
Although common colds can be annoying, you can still continue with your usual activities and the cold will subside in two to four days. In case it stays for a longer period than that, it is necessary to get medical help.
Symptoms: Common cold symptoms usually show up within one to three days of being exposed to the rhinovirus. Some of them include runny nose, congestion, sore throat, cough, sneezing, mild headache and body pain, malaise and low-grade fever.
Prevention: Stopping the virus from spreading is the best way of common cold prevention. It is crucial to wash hands frequently and avoid contact with people who have a cold. If one of the family members is sick, avoid sharing dishware and use a disinfectant to clean surfaces like light switches and countertops inside the home.
Treatment: As there is no cure for the common cold, it is advisable to take decongestants and take proper rest. Antibiotics don’t work against cold viruses and aren’t recommended unless there’s a bacterial infection.
Pneumonia is a life-threatening disease in which viral and bacterial infections (commonly the Streptococcus or pneumococcus bacteria) spread out in the alveoli or tiny sacs of the lungs clogging them with fluids. Therefore, pneumonia causes shortness of breath in individuals suffering from it. The germs that cause pneumonia can spread by coughing, sneezing or touching infected objects and then touching the mouth or nose.
Symptoms: Some of the symptoms associated with pneumonia are severe cough with green phlegm, high fever accompanied with chills and headache, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, the purple colouration of the skin, vomiting, sweating, and muscle pain.
Prevention: For the prevention of bacterial pneumonia, the PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax) shots may be given. Other than that, you can focus on general health and hygiene standards, such as getting proper exercise, rest and diet to lower the risks of getting bacterial pneumonia.
Treatment: The most common form of treatment is taking antibiotics. It is crucial to finish the prescribed doses or else you can get sick again. In cases of severe or stubborn pneumonia, oxygen treatment, IV fluids and medications are given.
Acute Ear Infection
An acute ear infection is a common winter ailment in which bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae cause inflammation and fluid build-up in the middle ear. Other causes of acute ear infection are cold, smoking, sinus infection and changes in climatic conditions.
Symptoms: The symptoms of acute ear infection are severe pain, hearing loss, discomfort in the ear, etc.
Prevention: Ear infection of any type can be prevented by following the steps below.
- Periodically cleaning the ears by washing them or through cotton swabs is essential.
- Make sure to dry your ears completely after taking a shower or swimming.
- Avoid smoking.
- Ensure your vaccines are up to date.
- Manage allergies through medications.
- Maintain general hygiene.
Treatment: Usually, antibiotics are prescribed if the diseases caused by cold weather are due to bacteria and not viruses. If the ear infection is accompanied by pain, your doctor may recommend pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin).
The norovirus is an infectious illness that can occur to people of all ages and at any time of the year. However, it is more common in the winter.
The virus causes diarrhoea and vomiting and is hence called the winter vomiting bug.
Symptoms: The common symptoms of norovirus infection are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain, fever and chills.
Prevention: There are no vaccines that can prevent the virus, but you can avoid it by –
- Following proper hand and oral hygiene.
- Eating thoroughly cooked food.
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in the home.
Treatment: Norovirus infection can resolve within a few days without any treatment. However, your doctor might prescribe over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication.
Strep throat, caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, is a critical infection occurring in the throat and tonsils. It is a common illness caused by cold weather in children within the age group of five to fifteen years. Winter care for the kids is important to prevent this infection.
Symptoms: A sharp pain in the throat is the obvious symptom that someone with strep throat will experience. Other symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, swollen lymph nodes and vomiting.
Prevention: To prevent strep throat, you can try the following tips.
- Drink more warm fluids during the season.
- Stay hydrated.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Gargle when you feel a slight soreness developing in the throat.
- Get proper rest.
Unlike sore throats that can go away without treatment, oral antibiotics are prescribed for the treatment of strep throat. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be recommended to alleviate the pain and fever.
How to Be Safe from an Illness During Winter
The cold weather and shorter days during the winter can make you lose the motivation to exercise and stay healthy and fit. This could lead to a weak immune system posing a greater risk of contracting the diseases. It is better to prevent them from occurring than going for the treatment options, and the best way to do that is to plan ahead and be careful. Here are some tips to help you stay safe from cold weather diseases.
Wash your hands frequently: It is the most common disease prevention tip as well as the most ignored one. Making it a habit to wash your hands frequently ensures that you are getting rid of the disease-causing germs off your hands and also prevents spreading it.
Add vitamin C to your diet: Vitamin C helps the body to fight the symptoms of cold, flu and other common winter illnesses. Also, consider adding to your diet the best foods for winter to keep away from the flu.
Drink herbal teas: Drinking herbal teas like chamomile can relax your body and help you rest better.
Practice meditation: Meditation helps you keep away from winter blues, anxiety and stress. Your body can fight infections better if you have lower anxiety and stress levels.
It is essential to take a holistic approach to general physical and mental health during winters. Following healthy habits and safety practices will help you lower the chances of getting sick so that you enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season.