The Effect Of Weather On Your Health – How Weather-Related Illnesses Affect Us
Many of us will remember a parent calling us inside while playing outside in the rain, "not to get a cold." It was also normal to spend sunny summer days playing outside for hours. Although times might have changed, and we are more "informed," how much do we really know about weather related-illnesses?
So how much truth is there in these warnings and dangers we grew up with? Actually, as scientific research has proven over recent years, there is a lot of truth in many of these warnings, and some dangers are very real.
As this article will explain, some weather conditions have small but noticeable effects on our health. Others, however, have a far more serious and lasting impact, but we don't even realize it at the time.
The aim of this article is to give you a broad overview of the different weather related illnesses. To keep things short and simple, we will stick to a brief description and explanation of each topic.
What Are Weather Related Illnesses?
A weather-related illness is a disease/infection or other adverse health condition that is the direct or indirect result of severe atmospheric conditions such as heat, cold, high levels of humidity, or extreme dry weather.
(Once you are aware of the various dangers, you will always be able to and learn more about it here online, or if you are really concerned, seek the advice from your physician.)
By categorizing each section under the following weather conditions, you will be able to quickly find what you are looking for if you are just scanning through this article for some specific answer.
Each section will be divided up under the four major weather conditions:
- Warm Weather
- Cold Weather
- Dry & Hot Weather
- Rainy (wet) Weather
As you will see, there can be quite a bit of overlap between certain health conditions and different weather variables. This is simply because some health conditions are affected by various different weather elements.
Heat Related Illnesses
The effect of heat on our bodies is probably one of the most noticeable weather effects. We very quickly become aware of these warm conditions making us feel being hot, tired, thirsty, or even lethargic during a hot, humid day.
There are some hidden dangers as well, some of which we only become aware of years later. We examine both the visible and hidden dangers while trying to focus on the most important and relevant ones.
- 3Heat Stroke
- 5Fatigue And Exhaustion
As we perspire a lot more during warm weather, we need to rehydrate on a regular basis. Although we often become aware of being thirsty, dehydration often sneaks up on you, and you only feel its effects after becoming lethargic and exhausted.
During physical activity, cramping of the muscles is a very quick reminder that you probably neglected to stay properly hydrated.
Although normally considered a short-term condition, dehydration can have serious effects. Being constantly dehydrated over the long-term puts a lot of stress on your organs, especially your kidneys. Left unchecked, it can even lead to permanent organ damage.
If you are one of the unfortunate people who suffer migraines, this may not be new information to you at all, but the weather is actually one of the main causes of migraines.
And it's even more sobering when you have to consider that it's not just one but a variety of weather conditions that can trigger a migraine. Changes in temperature, high winds, and stormy weather can all contribute to the development of a migraine.
It is mostly warm weather, and it's and all the factors surrounding it, that is the biggest contributor to migraines. The heat and humidity themselves are very often the triggers of this painful condition.
Direct sunlight is often a double blow to someone whose eyes are sensitive to sunlight and also suffer from migraines. Being directly exposed to the bright sun is almost guaranteed to be followed by a migraine attack.
Then, ironically, two very different conditions related to heat, extreme humidity, and very dry weather can both contribute to migraines to varying degrees.
You will, therefore not be imagining things when you find that you always develop a migraine when certain weather conditions occur.
3) Heat Stroke
Heat Stroke (also called sunstroke) is one of the most serious heat-related injuries and can be fatal. This occurs when a person is exposed to the sun and heat for a prolonged period of time and often coincides with humidity.
This can result in the body to shut down its temperature control system. If it is not caught in time or treated immediately, it can lead to death or permanent brain damage.
Tell-tale symptoms include fainting or completely losing consciousness. There are warning signs, however. Feelings of dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeats, and being hot without sweating are all warning signs that should not be ignored.
This is a very serious condition, so when you experience these symptoms or notice someone else displaying them, don't ignore it. Especially after a prolonged period of exposure to the sun, this can really be a matter of life or death.
Apart from those of you who live close to Arctic regions and have never taken a holiday near the tropics or a sunny country, we have all experienced the painful result of sunburn.
Sunburn occurs when the skin is exposed to the dangerous UV radiation from the sun for an extended period of time. This results in painful red skin discoloration, which is the body's inflammatory response to the damage. The diluted blood vessels are the start of the repair process by the body's immune system.
The evenings and following days after a day of very long hours in direct sunlight without proper protection (sunscreen and proper clothing), will be a painful reminder of this danger we will don't easily forget. (And yet, sometimes still not learn from it.)
There is a hidden and much more dangerous result of sunburn, though. One we very often only discovered decades later. The close relationship between skin cancer and sun exposure has already been well researched and known for decades in the medical community.
The biggest danger is that skin cancer (as a result of sunburn) very often only manifests itself decades later, even though the damage was done in our early years.
I can testify to this myself. At 47, I recently developed strange looking growths on my skin, only to discover it was solar keratosis, a form of precancer. (Luckily, it was treated and burned off with liquid nitrogen).
Being fair-skinned, I used to "bake" in the sun for hours in my teens in my attempts to look healthy and not stick out like a sore thumb. My mother, also fair-skinned, already got treated for skin cancer several times, so you will think yours truly would get the message...
Fortunately, most skin cancers are not deadly and treatable when caught in time. It can have deadly effects, though, especially in its most dangerous form, melanoma. But why take the risk when you can prevent the cause of it all from doing the damage in the first place?
Sunburn is something that should be taken seriously, though, so make sure especially children are adequately protected and stay out of the sun during the hours when the sun's UV radiation is at its highest. They may not thank you now but will thank you later.
5) Fatigue And Exhaustion
We all know how tired we are after a long warm day at the beach or out in nature. Even just commuting or sitting in your office in warm weather conditions can be exhausting and lead to fatigue and drowsiness.
Dehydration is one of the main causes, as it makes you feel tired and fatigued very quickly. The warm weather heats your body. It responds by perspiring to cool the body down. It very often happens over time without you even noticing it.
As a result, your body starts dehydrating, and if you are not aware of this and don't drink enough fluids, you will inevitably start feeling fatigued.
As the body tries to cool the body in various ways, it also uses up energy. The longer your body needs to stay cool, the more energy is used up. This leads to a lack of energy, which is another reason why you start to feel tired and exhausted.
Warm temperatures also lead to a drop in blood pressure. This is normally not dangerous in an otherwise healthy person. The drop in blood pressure, however, does make you feel tired and drowsy.
A combination of all these factors can make a warm, humid day very tiresome, exhausting, and very unproductive.
Cold Related Illnesses
Before delving into the various health conditions in this section, I need to clarify that the cold weather diseases or health conditions discussed here are not necessarily the ones associated with "normal" cooler winter temperatures.
I am referring to those countries and regions closer to the northern and southern arctic regions, which are experiencing exceptionally cold weather. (This will obviously include any country that also experiences extreme cold weather during the winter months.)
- Compromised Immune System
- 3Heart Attacks
- 5Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
1) Compromised Immune System
Just as your body spends energy in its attempt to cool down in warm weather conditions, it also spends a lot of energy trying to warm your body during cold weather conditions.
It just spends that much more energy trying to stay warm than it does cooling down. Perspiring is a more passive action, while shivering is nothing more than your muscles contracting and relaxing at a rapid rate. So it's basically a form of exercise, like going to the gym.
Shivering over a long period of time, combined with muscle movements to help you stay warm you may not even be aware of (like rubbing your hands together or shoveling your feet), really use up a substantial amount of energy.
As you would have noticed, I often talk about people with weak or compromised immune systems throughout this article. Unfortunately, it is true that they are the ones who are most vulnerable to changing weather conditions.
And this the case with cold conditions as well. A child or elderly person with a developing or weakened immune system will be weakened even further in cold weather conditions.
As a result, an individual with a weakened immune system is now much more prone to infections and diseases that would have easily been fought off under normal circumstances.
As the air temperature drops, your body is in a constant battle to keep your body temperature up. There are some instances, however, where the body is simply not able to keep its temperature at a sustainable level.
Once your body's core temperature drops below 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit), hypothermia sets in. If not treated quickly, this can lead to a shutdown of your organs and nervous system, which can be fatal.
Hypothermia is classified in various stages, from mild to severe. The seriousness and form of treatment are mostly determined by the stage of hypothermia experienced.
People with a weakened or underdeveloped immune system, like children and the elderly, have the biggest risk of experiencing hypothermia during very cold conditions.
3) Heart Attacks
The number of heart attacks per year shows a significant rise during the cold winter months. This has been confirmed by the American Heart Association, but in reality, it is actually a worldwide phenomenon.
This is partly due to the compromised immune system I mentioned in the section above. Especially when performing physical activity, the heart is forced to work harder.
This puts anyone with an existing heart condition at risk as the body is less able to cope with the additional stress than under warmer conditions due to a weakened immune system.
Additionally, cold weather also causes blood vessels in the human body to be constricted. This inhibits blood flow to the heart, which puts it under additional stress.
This, in turn, can increase the likelihood of a blood clot restricting or completely blocking any blood from reaching the heart, which can trigger a heart attack.
This also a very serious condition that occurs under extremely cold conditions. Under these icy conditions, the exposed areas of the skin and underlying tissue are frozen by the cold temperatures. (It can also happen to the skin underneath clothing.)
The areas most affected are the toes, fingers, nose, ears, and chin. In more severe cases, larger parts of the body can also be affected.
Symptoms include a tingling sensation, feelings of numbness, and general clumsiness due to the stiffening up of the muscles.
Physical symptoms can mostly be observed in the discoloration of the skin. From a red, white, to a bluish-white and grayish-yellow color can be seen and may indicate various stages of frostbite. A hard and waxy-looking skin may also point to possible frostbite.
Various stages of frostbite occur, with the most severe case resulting in the death of the skin and underlying tissue. This is the result of a complete loss of blood flow for a prolonged period as a result of the tissue being frozen.
At this point, gangrene has set in, and the skin has turned black and hard as a result of the dying tissue. In most cases, at his point, amputation of the affected area may be the only source of treatment.
This a worst-case scenario, though, and in most cases, the affected areas be treated and are able to recover.
The biggest danger, however, is that this condition may occur unnoticed and therefore not treated in time. This is because the affected area turns numb quickly, which means you may not even be aware of the worsening condition if it's not pointed out to you.
5) Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Although this is considered an indirect result of cold weather conditions, it is still serious enough and should be taken note of.
During cold weather, staying warm door indoors often coincide with creating sources of heat. Especially in less developed countries, furnaces, fireplaces, and stoves are often used.
During the burning process, carbon monoxide is released. It is an odorless but deadly gas, which means it is sometimes not picked up until it's too late.
For this reason, care should be taken for proper ventilation of these gases, and having a meter that measures carbon monoxide levels at all times, is always a sensible option.
Dry Weather Related Illnesses
- Dry Skin Conditions
- 2Upper Respiratory Problems
1) Dry Skin Conditions
Like most other parts of our body, our skin contains and actually needs a certain amount of moisture to stay healthy and sustain its elasticity.
During dry winter months (or summer in some countries), the dry air directly affects our skin and leads to a loss of the amount of moisture it contains.
Its symptoms include the itchiness and sometimes burning sensation many of us are familiar with. Visible scratch marks and a red discoloration after friction with another object are also tell-tale signs of dry skin.
Dry air can also lead to some individuals developing painful cracks on their skin and chapped lips. If left untreated, it can worsen and actually start to bleed, which can leave the affected areas prone to infection.
2) Upper Respiratory Problems
Your upper respiratory system, specifically your nose and throat, is lined with moist membranes. The main task of these membranes is to capture small particles like pollen, dust, and bacteria before they reach your lungs.
When the weather becomes very dry, these membranes can start losing humidity as well. This severely limits their ability to effectively perform their jobs.
Many upper respiratory infections and conditions like asthma, sinusitis, and bronchitis can be severely affected when these membranes start to lose their ability to perform their tasks optimally and effectively.
It is, therefore, quite common to see an increase in occurrences of these ailments during dry weather conditions.
Since we do the majority of our breathing through our noses, the amount of moisture present in the air has a direct effect on our nasal passages.
During the dry season, the air passing through our nasal passages causes the inside of the nose to become dry as well, which is uncomfortable and quite painful in many cases.
This also often leads to nosebleeds among some individuals. That is also why it is not uncommon at all to see more people suffering from nosebleeds when the weather remains predominantly dry.
Wet Weather Related Illnesses
- Colds And Flu
- 3Waterborne Diseases
- 4Athlete's Foot
1) Colds And Flu
We all know that "rainy and cold weather causes colds and flu."
Do they really?
Nope, this claim is actually a myth. Cold and rainy weather do contribute to colds and flu, but not in the way you think!
During winter months, people tend to stay indoors and spend a lot more time in close proximity to other people. This creates the ideal environment for viruses to spread.
With over 200 viruses responsible for colds and flu, the rhinovirus is responsible for more than 50% of all colds contracted. It is also highly infectious and can be passed on through physical contact or via the air (sneezing and coughing).
Combine this with people concentrated into confined spaces and sharing the same air, and it is no surprise that the number of cold & flu instances increase dramatically over the cold and wet winter months.
The wet and cold weather only contributes to this increase by forcing people indoors more often, as well as lowering immune systems as the human body is using up valuable energy while fighting to keep it warm.
Although this can fall under upper respiratory health conditions, it is serious and different enough to deserve its own section. Over 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma in some form.
It is therefore important to note that a thunderstorm can actually trigger an asthma attack. Pollen allergens, which are some of the primary triggers for an asthma attack, are picked by the wind swirling around in the storm.
As the storm travels, it carries these pollen allergens with them. This increases the likelihood of being inhaled by anyone in the path of the storm. In the case of an asthma sufferer, the chances are good of causing an asthma attack.
3) Waterborne Diseases
An often overlooked but potentially deadly consequence of the wet rainy season is the increase and spread of waterborne diseases.
This is especially prolific in regions experiencing heavy rainfall over short periods of time, for example, in India during the Monsoon Season.
After a heavy downpour, flash flooding often occurs. This leaves large areas of standing water for days or even weeks. It is this standing water that is the ideal breeding ground for all kinds of waterborne diseases, which is spread through various forms of contact, including insects like mosquitoes.
Some of the deadliest diseases like typhoid, malaria, cholera, and dengue flourish in these conditions. These waterborne diseases are also responsible for more fatalities in India during the monsoon season than any direct weather event (like flooding, structural collapse, and mudslides).
4) Athlete's Foot
This indirect result of a particularly heavy rainy season is not that serious at all. I decided to include it just to put a little more of a lighthearted spin on an otherwise rather serious article.
Standing water as a result of a heavy downpour and flash flooding is ideal for the spreading of the fungus that causes athlete's foot. As a result, you see a substantial increase in this embarrassing and inconvenient fungal infection during rainy seasons.
A range of health conditions can directly be linked to specific weather occurrences. In many cases, as I stated at the start of the article, some conditions can be triggered or influenced by a variety of different weather variables.
If you were ever puzzled as to why you only experience certain health issues or feel the way you do at specific times over the years, I hope this article was able to shed some light on the situation and answer some questions.
There are obviously countless more health conditions that can be linked to specific weather variables. I tried to concentrate and isolate the most important ones, though.
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Until next time, keep your eye on the weather!