Weather and Health

April 8, 2021 // Article by: Jen D’Iorio

Have you ever heard someone say "There's a storm coming...I can feel it in my bones!" and thought they were crazy? Well, they likely aren't crazy, as there is a proven relationship between weather and various components of human health. In this blog, we delve into several health conditions that may be impacted by different aspects of the weather that we experience everyday.

Aches and Pains

When someone says they can feel a storm coming "in their bones", there is likely some truth to this. A storm approaching is typically accompanied by a fall in barometric pressure, which is defined as the force per unit area exerted by the weight of the atmosphere. A fall in barometric pressure is proven to cause joints and muscles to swell, become overly extended, and turn achy or painful. Aside from the effects of barometirc pressure, cold weather can also lead to the tightening of muscles and joints, which also leads to aches and pains.

Headaches and Migraines

Experts believe that people who get frequent headaches have a greater sensitivity to changes in the environment. Some even believe that a migraine triggered by the weather is a protective or defensive measure taken by the body in order to lead the person to seek a safer and more hospitable environment.

Those who typically suffer from headaches and migraines have discovered that various types of weather events can trigger an attack. Actually, so many people suffer from weather-induced headaches and migraines that the medical community has coined them as "Migraine Meteorologists!" A shift / change in barometric pressure, whether it be a rise or fall, may have an effect on the pressure-sensitive receptors in the brain or could cause imbalances in brain chemicals, both of which can trigger a migraine. About 2/3 of all people that suffer from migraines have attributed a shift in barometric pressure as a trigger. Windy conditions and bright sunlight/sun glare (even if it's just a brief 5-10 min exposure) can also trigger migraines. High or low humidity, extreme heat or cold, and altitude changes can also be problematic for migraine sufferers.

Allergies

Since allergy symptoms are largely caused by pollen and mold, which are both impacted by temperature and moisture, weather can easily influence the severity of allergy season.

For example, a warmer than usual winter allows trees to pollinate sooner, which can cause allergy symptoms to show up sooner and last longer through the spring. Also, hot spells in the spring can result in more intense periods of pollen that is released into the air. Plus, an early snow melt or a wetter April/May can intensify mold and therefore allergy symptoms. Not to mention, above normal rainfall can promote rapid plant growth, which causes allergy systems to come on quickly and intensely. Though, the rain could have some benefits, as it can temporarily ease itchy eyes or a runny nose by washing away some of the pollen that is airbourne. Finally, dry and windy weather can cause an uptick in allergy symptoms as pollen and mold is easily spread.

Asthma

People who suffer from asthma have found that some attacks are triggered by different weather-related factors, such as high heat and/or humidity, dry and windy conditions, bitter cold, and even rain. Since asthma is an inflammation of the airways, any change in the "typical type" of air we breathe can easily irritate the respiratory system.

Additionally, the "quality" of the air that we breathe can have an influence on asthma sufferers. Higher concentrations of pollutants including ozone and fine particles (such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides) at the surface on a given day can leave those with asthma more susceptible to respiratory issues and difficulty breathing. Days where these higher concentrations are most common typically occur in the summer months, when there is more sun, heat, and moisture (possibly leading to Air Quality Alerts).

Immune System

During the winter, people spend more time inside and are in closer contact with other people. These close quarters allow the flu and typical coughs and colds to spread more easily, making you more susceptible to getting sick during the cold season. Additionally, viruses including the flu and the common cold survive in the air and on surfaces much more easily in colder, drier weather. This is another factor that makes your immune system more susceptible to illness in the winter as opposed to the summer. Low Vitamin D levels in the winter due to lower amounts of sunlight can also make our immune systems weaker, as vitamin D is essential to immune health.

Many people claim that sudden weather changes, such as a drastic rise or fall in temperatures, can quite literally make them feel "under the weather". While weather directly cannot cause one to get sick, an immune system already exposed to viruses or bacteria that then experiences a sudden and drastic weather change can easily succumb, causing the individual to get sick. A change from one season to the next can also foster sickness amongst people, because as the weather changes, different viruses and allergens can begin flourishing.

Heart

Extreme temperatures, such as unbearable heat or bitter cold, can put a strain on anyone with an unhealthy heart. This can therefore raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke. For example, cold temperatures work to constrict blood vessels, which makes the heart work harder to circulate blood, potentially leading to issues.

Skin

Common skin condtions such as rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis can become excaberated by winter weather. Dry and cold outdoor air combined with indoor heat causes the skin to lose moisture, easily allowing it to become dry, red, and/or itchy. Summer weather can also aggravate skin conditions, as hot temperatures and sunlight cause blood vessels to dilate. This increases blood flow to the skin, which can cause discomfort and irritation.

Mood

It has been found that less sunlight in the fall and winter can promote a "blue mood". The clinical definition of this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

Sources:

Web MD: https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/headache-and-migraine-trigger-weather

Better Homes and Gardens: https://www.bhg.com/health-family/staying-healthy/weather-health-tips/

Theraflu: https://www.theraflu.com/amp/why-do-i-get-sick-in-the-winter.html

WeatherWorks: https://weatherworksinc.com/news/weather-and-the-air-we-breathe

 

 

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