The first day of winter is Dec. 21, and with its arrival, we see a spike in certain ailments. The drop in temperature, the demands of the season and the sudden disruption of our regularly scheduled activities can take a major toll on our overall health. Here are a few tips to help all of us stay healthy all season long.
Take preventive measures to stay flu free: In addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are other steps we take everyday to keep ourselves healthy. Washing our hands often; coughing or sneezing into the crook of our elbows; eating healthy foods — including immune-boosting foods, like berries and citrus fruits; exercising regularly; and getting plenty of rest can all be valuable.
Be extra attentive with those who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions: Both a cold and the flu can trigger an asthma attack, cause shortness of breath, lead to serious infections like pneumonia or result in other life-threatening complications. If prescribed, use an inhaler preventatively. Wearing a scarf around the mouth and nose is another simple solution. This warms the air you breathe in, keeping your airways open.
The change in weather and the sudden drop in temperature can increase the number of headaches — especially among chronic headache sufferers. Sinus headaches are often caused by a drop in barometric pressure. Overexertion or stress can bring on tension headaches. Migraine headaches can be triggered by certain foods, skipping meals or not getting enough rest. If you are prone to headaches, take extra precautions during the winter months. Healthy diet, rest and exercise can reduce their incidence.
Staying hydrated is as essential to your health during the chilly winter months as it is during the sweltering summer months. The lack of moisture in the air can cause dry skin, bloody noses and chapped lips. Proper hydration is essential to prevent these ailments, but most importantly, it can also protect you from more serious conditions, like hypothermia and frostbite.
Holiday stress can make you feel overwhelmed: Learn how to manage and cope with the demands of the season. Ask for help, take time to care for yourself, realize that you just can’t be everywhere and that it’s OK to say no. Keep in mind that long-term stress can cause a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, an abnormal heart rate, increased blood-sugar levels, depression and anxiety.
Seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as the holiday or winter blues, is a form of depression that we often see this time of year. Symptoms of SAD can include fatigue, lack of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal and even weight gain. For most people, these symptoms usually disappear as spring arrives. If symptoms persist, talk to your physician.
The holiday festivities can take a serious toll on our gastrointestinal health. During the last weeks of the year, cases of heartburn greatly increase, often because of overeating, indulging in rich, greasy foods, eating too late or too quickly, or because of increased alcohol consumption. While most cases aren't serious, it can cause pain and discomfort. Practice moderation and try to avoid problem foods.
Luis Sandoval, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist and family medicine specialist at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Ana Medical Offices. Dr. Sandoval's comprehensive treatment approach focuses on an individual's total health: mind, body and spirit. He believes that by identifying and addressing underlying causes, implementing healthy lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and taking medication when necessary, he can determine the best treatment plan and work with his patients to restore their emotional and mental well-being.