Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

There are plenty of myths about how people can catch a cold, with probably the most common the one about going outside in the cold with wet hair.

While it’s not true that you can catch a cold from simply being cold, the winter weather does bring its own health risks.

Wearing warm clothes, using hot water bottles or additional blankets at night and ensuring the heating is turned up to 21°C (70F) can ward off some of the more serious health risks, such as heart attacks, asthma attacks and infections.

The cold weather is a known trigger for asthma attacks – so in addition to keeping the house warm, asthma patients should try to cover their mouth and nose with a scarf if they are out and about in the cold weather.

On particularly cold and windy days it may be advisable to stay in. Always make sure you have emergency inhalers within reach (and that other family members know where they are).

The frequency of heart attacks increases in colder weather as well. Your body has to work harder just to keep itself warm and in addition to this, the cold weather can increase your blood pressure. Both actions cause extra strain on the heart and increase the risk of heart attacks.

When we feel cold, our body diverts the majority of our blood to our vital organs, a survival instinct we haven’t lost from our cavemen ancestors. But by doing so, less blood is available to our extremities. This makes wrapping up with gloves and thicker socks important. Fingers and toes can discolour and become painful in cold weather. A chronic condition causing similar symptoms is Reynaud’s Phenomenon.

If you’re taking part in winter sports or playing in the snow, keeping warm and dry is especially important, otherwise you might be at risk of frost bite or hypothermia.
It’s not just warm clothing that you should consider. With frequent wet and icy conditions, slips and trips are one of the main causes of injuries during winter months. Try to consider choosing sturdy footwear with strong grips, especially if you’re unsteady on your feet.

Infections such as cold and flu are most common in the colder, winter months. These viruses can survive for up to 24 hours outside the body – lingering to potentially infect another person. Regular and thorough hand washing is the best defense against these viruses. If someone else is unwell at home, try and reduce the sharing of cups, plates and towels to reduce the risk of spreading the infection further.