While weather in Houston can be unpredictable, it’s important to prepare for winter conditions by educating yourself about health precautions before the cold weather arrives. Here are seven myths to help you separate fact from fiction and stay healthy during the winter season.
Myth 1: Bundling up prevents you from getting sick.
While there is evidence that warmer body temperatures can prevent the internal spread of viruses, keeping warm doesn’t prevent you from catching viruses in the first place. The increase in the occurrence of cold viruses during winter can be attributed to people staying indoors in close proximity or the lower humidity levels, which can dry nasal passages and allow viruses to enter your body.
Myth 2: You lose most of your body heat through your head.
For adults, there isn’t anything different about your head regarding the preservation of body heat. You lose body heat from any part of the body that is exposed to chilled temperatures. Although it is a good idea to keep your head covered under a warm hat, experts say other body parts should also be covered to keep you from getting too cold. The amount of heat escaping from your head depends on various factors, including hair thickness.
Keep in mind that for children, this is actually a fact; they do lose more heat through their heads. The surface area of a child’s head relative to the child’s body is much greater than that of an adult. Hoods and hats are more important for children to wear during cold weather for this reason.
Myth 3: Drinking alcohol warms you up.
Actually, alcohol lowers the core temperature of your body. Although drinking alcohol may make you feel warmer, this feeling is caused by blood rushing to the surface of the skin. Alcohol also decreases sensitivity to cold, which in turn reduces the shivering process and deprives your body of extra heat. All of these factors actually increase the risk for hypothermia.
Myth 4: You have to dress in layers to keep warm.
Although dressing in layers is practical, one warm, well-made garment will serve you just as well. Depending on the temperature, dressing in layers makes sense in order to adjust for different levels of activity throughout the day. It only takes about 15 to 20 minutes in below-freezing temperatures to develop hypothermia if you are not wearing proper coverage, are in wet clothing, or have exposed skin. It is important to take the appropriate steps to stay warm, paying special attention to those areas that are often left exposed, like your head, nose, neck, and ears.
Myth 5: There’s no need for sunscreen when it’s cold outside.
Winter can be tough on your skin, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. In fact, winter skin is more sensitive to the sun than tan summer skin. The increased melanin produced in the summer helps protect skin cells against damaging UV radiation. Due to less UV radiation in winter time, skin produces less melanin, and consequently, the skin is not only less tan but is more sensitive to UV radiation.
This is especially true when holiday skiing and snow sports take place. UV radiation increases in the mountains because snow and ice reflect it. The intensity of sun exposure can be increased by 80-90 percent, experts say. So when you think of layering on garments to protect you from the cold temperatures, add a layer of sunscreen to exposed skin for extra protection.
Myth 6: Everyone has the same susceptibility to cold and flu season.
When surrounding temperatures drop, it’s only a matter of time before you begin to see the waves of people coughing and sniffling. Although the common cold viruses do not skip anyone based on age or gender, young children and seniors are most at risk of catching a cold during fall and winter weather due to weaker immune systems and susceptibility to viruses spread by other people. People who have received the flu vaccine not only protect themselves, but also those they come into contact with. Have you gotten your flu vaccine?
Myth 7: Cold weather means more migraines.
While more than half of migraine sufferers are affected by weather, migraines are often falsely attributed to changes in temperature. Research shows that the most common weather factors that affect migraines are humidity, barometric pressure, and major weather changes over the course of one or two days. Ultimately, migraine triggers are subjective and need to be closely monitored and discussed with your primary care physician.
When the temperature outside drops, know the facts and be prepared. If you suffer from migraines, need help getting over a cold or the flu, or have any questions regarding your health during winter, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group physician.
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