WINTER is well and truly arrived with much of the UK waking up to a blanket of snowfall this morning.
The white frosting as sent temperatures plummeting to a bitter -15C – which is set to continue through to Tuesday.
Feeling chilly is one obvious way the cold weather can affect your body, but experts say there are other, more serious consequences.
Met Office forecasters have issued several yellow weather warnings for snow, ice and fog across Britain as the mercury is set to continue to plunge to -10C in the coming days.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is advising people to look out for friends and family who are vulnerable in the cold and to ensure they have access to warm food and drinks.
This is because the cold weather can make some people’s health problems even worse, especially if you’re over 65 and already have an underlying health condition.
The cold winter weather can have an impact on all parts of the body – including, yep, your private parts.
And on a more serious note cold weather also means you’re more likely to suffer from serious conditions such as a heart attack or blood clots.
Here are the main health dangers that can be triggered by the cold.
1. Winter vagina
The vagina has a delicate microbial ecosystem, known as the microbiome, Claire Foss, nutritional therapist at Optibac Probiotics explains.
Claire said: “Some of our beloved winter habits such as taking hot baths, wearing heavy clothing, and even the dry air from cranking up the central heating can upset the vaginal microbiome, creating the perfect environment for a ‘winter vagina’.”
Symptoms of winter vagina include infections and Trish Coulton, founder of www.bondi-body.com & Bondi Laser at home said wearing tights, trousers and layers can restrict the air to our most intimate areas.
She said the area can become a little bit like closed Tupperware, in that it doesn’t allow air in, making it impossible for the skin to breathe and keeping everything sealed in.
“It is a melting pot for infections. Symptoms of cystitis and thrush are odour and vaginal discharge, and the bacteria from these infections gets trapped in the bikini hair, exasperating the issue and causing discomfort.
“Wearing tight clothes after shaving can chaff and cause skin infections and also, bikini stubble can become itchy and sore. (We have all walked down the street and had a little wiggle itch).”
2. Blood clots
Sudden changes in temperature cause thermal stress for the body – which has to work harder to maintain its constant temperature.
In particular, research has shown this makes it more likely for people to suffer from dangerous blood clots during winter.
Study authors, from a hospital in Nice, France, suggested that respiratory tract infections more common in winter might make patients more vulnerable to blood clots.
They also suggested that chilly weather might make the blood vessels constrict, making it more likely that blood clots will form.
Pelvic health physiotherapist Clare Bourne said the cold weather can wreak havoc on your pelvic floor, and subsequently lead to issues with incontinence.
Research from female technology brand Elvie found that 45 per cent of British women need a wee more when it’s cold.
Clare explained: “When you’re cold, blood vessels constrict to get more blood and warmth to our vital organs.
“This means that your blood pressure increases temporarily and to control our blood pressure the kidneys filter out any excess fluid, which results in us needing to pass urine more frequently.
“We get the urge to do a wee when the bladder sends a message to the brain to say there is urine present. This initially occurs before our bladder is totally full so we have time to find a toilet.
“If we repeatedly ignore the urge to go and spend long periods of time holding in urine this can lead to pelvic floor tension, which can lead to other symptoms.”
4. The flu
Cases of the flu are expected to explode in the face of a ‘super cold snap’ of weather currently blanketing Britain, experts have warned.
Dr Conall Watson, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said while some have had their flu jab already, the UK needed to go ‘one step further this winter’.
He explained: “Temperatures are dropping, and winter is approaching. Flu typically increases at this time of the year, so if you are eligible for an NHS flu vaccine and haven’t had it yet, please book as soon as you can.
“We have now met the World Health Organisation target for flu vaccine uptake in those aged 65 and over, but we need to go further to make sure more people are protected this winter.”
Flu gets worse in winter months and the cold weather can exacerbate symptoms of the common illness.
5. Mood changes
For many people the winter months can be tough to contend with, with some suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The NHS says that SAD is also known as the ‘winter depression’, this is because symptoms are usually more obvious during the winter months.
It’s a type of depression and for those heavily impacted by the condition – it can have a severe affect on your day-to-day activities.
While the exact cause of SAD isn’t clear, experts say it could be down to a lack of sunlight during the winter months.
This is because a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly.
This is know to affect the body’s production of melatonin, which is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
It could also impact serotonin levels – which impact your mood, appetite and sleep, as well as the body’s internal body clock.
Experts at Asthma UK say that winter can be a dangerous time for people with asthma as chilly weather, colds and flu, chest infections and mould are more common and can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks.
They explained that these attacks cause airways to become inflamed, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and struggling to breathe.
“Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you at all times and keep taking their regular preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed.
The simple scarf could also save your life.
“Do a ‘scarfie’ – wrapping a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth to help warm up the air before they breathe it in, as cold air is another asthma attack trigger.
“It could also be helpful to stick to indoor activities when the weather is particularly cold”, they advise.
7. Heart attacks
People exposed to cold weather are more likely to suffer a heart attack, a recent study revealed.
Researchers from Sweden from Lund University in Sweden found that the average number of heart attacks per day was significantly higher when the weather as cold compared to when the weather was warm.
On a day-to-day basis it translated to four more heart attacks per day when the average temperature was below zero.
It is thought the risk of heart attacks is higher in cold weather because the body responds to feeling chilly by restricting superficial blood vessels.
This decreases how warm the skin is and increases blood flow through the arteries.
The body also begins to shiver and your heart rate increases to keep you warm.
But these responses can add extra stress on your heart.
8. Flaky scalp
With the temperature getting lower, central heating getting turned on and eating dairy-rich foods in the lead up to Christmas, it’s the perfect environment for dandruff to thrive
For many, dandruff occurs when the microbiome of their scalp becomes imbalanced, Philip Kingsley Brand President and Consultant Trichologist Anabel Kingsley say.
They explained: ” Yeasts naturally live on our scalps, and usually do not cause any problems. However, when a certain species of yeast called the Malassezia yeasts overgrow, this can cause skin cells to divide too rapidly – leading to tell-take flakes and itching.
“Malassezia yeasts thrive in an oily environment, and so are likely to overgrow if you shampoo infrequently or have a naturally oily scalp. However, it is also thought that some people’s scalps are simply sensitive to normal levels of these yeasts.”
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