It happens every year. The beachwear is traded for knitwear and the white wine is swapped for a warming drop. But there is a darker side to the cooler months, with reports suggesting a significant rise of deaths as a result of seasonal conditions. With the average adult expected to contract up to four colds each year and more than 20 per cent of people suffering from hay fever at some point in their life, it is essential to know who’s most at risk and how to prevent symptoms.
With more than 200 types of the common cold virus around, it is easy to see why most people catch a cold at least once each year. These colds become more common during the cooler months because people tend to stay inside and in closer, more confined, contact with each other.
The cold virus is very easily spread through things like hand contact, coughing and sneezing and can result in a sore throat, headache, fever, swelling of the lymph glands and a runny nose, which can last anywhere between a few days and a week.
Prevention: Despite what some may think, medications such as antibiotics and cough medicines generally don’t have any effect on the common cold. The best way to fight this annoying bug is with paracetamol, warming drinks (such as lemon and honey), nasal drops and throat lozenges. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to prevent catching the
nasty common cold, but you can minimise the symptoms and longevity of this virus by preparing your body with a diet high in vegetables and fruits and by ensuring you exercise regularly.
Danger factor: Low – the symptoms of a cold are irritating and painful, however with proper care there shouldn’t be much danger for the average person.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Recent studies have shown a drastic rise of up to 10 per cent of cases of depression during the cooler months. This is the result of SAD, a condition that is attributed to the shortening of
the days and lack of vitamin D from sunlight. Some of the symptoms of SAD include increased tiredness, anxiousness, irritability, over-eating and social ostracism.
Prevention: For severe sufferers, the only effective option may be antidepressants or sitting in front of specially designed fluorescent lights. However, for most cases of SAD, symptoms can be minimised by simply spending an extra half hour outdoors in the natural light and taking vitamin D supplements.
Danger factor: Medium – the biggest risk factor with SAD is that there is a general lack of awareness about the condition and its symptoms. Being aware of the warning signs means friends and family can intervene in the early stages of the condition.
Asthma affects people with sensitive airways that narrow when irritated, making breathing difficult and sometimes painful. It is generally agreed that asthma can be linked to a number of causes, including poor diet, genetics (if your parents have suffered from the condition), and living in a heavily polluted environment. Some of the symptoms of asthma sufferers include wheezing, dry coughs, shortness of breath and a tightness of the chest.
Prevention: Depending on the severity of the asthma, many sufferers benefit from a combination of remedies. Doctors can prescribe medication and an asthma management plan to both prevent and ease the symptoms of asthma, but natural therapies, such as acupuncture, breathing exercises and chiropractic treatments
can also be a complementary way to ease the discomfort.
Danger factor: High – although most asthma sufferers only ever experience mild symptoms, it is vital for both the patient and their family or carer to know what to do if an attack does become severe.
Hay fever occurs when a person has an allergic reaction to some of the particles that get trapped in the tiny hairs and mucus of the nose. These particles, which can be anything from dust mites and animal fur to pollen and mould, then react with the body’s immune system, causing symptoms such as sneezing, itchy sinuses, a runny nose, red eyes and headaches.
Prevention: One trick I’ve learned over the years is to smear Vaseline on the inside cavities of your nose – this provides a protective layer between the little nose hairs and the irritating particles that stick to them. There are some great decongestants or saltwater nasal sprays as well as soothing eye drops, which are readily available at most supermarkets, to help ease the symptoms. However, if this is an ongoing issue, it’s best to talk with your GP, who may prescribe stronger prescription medication or anti-histamines.
Danger factor: Low – hay fever can make you uncomfortable but it isn’t life- threatening on its own.
Who is most at risk from seasonal illnesses:
The over 60s: As we get older, our immune system weakens. To minimise vulnerability, keep up to date with vaccinations, maintain a healthy body weight, ensure vitamin and mineral intake is sufficient, and revisit your GP to check all medications are refreshed.
Pregnant women: During pregnancy, the immune system is naturally lowered so the body doesn’t reject the new baby. Because of this, pregnant women often experience heightened symptoms when they contract any sort of condition. Women should be extra cautious about what medication and supplements they use throughout pregnancy and consult their GP before buying over-the-counter medications. Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to try natural remedies such as humidifiers with eucalyptus oil, ginger and lemon teas, and light exercise outside. Also, increase your intake of iron, found in red meat and dark green veges, to ensure your immune system is in top shape.
Children: Children’s immune systems are still developing so it’s no wonder they are more at risk of contracting certain illnesses. The common cold and asthma can be rampant among the young. Encouraging your children to lead a healthy lifestyle, with minimal processed food is the best way to minimise risk. Ensure all vaccinations are kept up to date and keep informed from pre-school and primary school staff on any potential viruses that have been going around so you can prepare in advance.
Nick McDonald has a B. Nursing and a Grad Dip. in Children’s Nursing.