We all feel ‘under the weather’ at times, but what does this actually mean? Evidence does show that weather can affect in our health in different ways. Climatotherapy is the idea of recommending different weather conditions for different illnesses. Patients with tuberculosis were traditionally sent to the mountains for the lower levels of water vapour and higher ozone levels. Conversely, seaside resorts are considered to be excellent ‘respite centres’ because of the sodium and iodine rich sea air and can help those with respiratory conditions or rheumatism.
Depending on the severity of the storm this type of weather can have a relative affect on our health. This is especially true for asthma and arthritis sufferers. Asthma UK recommends that people with the condition stay indoors with the windows closed during thunderstorms. This is because pollen grains and fungal spores get carried, broken up and concentrated down a narrow column of air. This can cause an attack for asthma sufferers or hay-fever sufferers. Even those without these conditions may feel a heavier feeling in their breathing. Even less dramatic storms can have an effect too, arthritis sufferers can find that rains storms make their aches and pains worse. This is not so much to do with the rain itself but the weather system that creates it; the warm fronts, the cold fronts and the changes in electromagnetic frequencies.
Most people notice that prolonged periods of gloomy weather can affect their mood. However for some the effect is so noticeable that it interferes with their lives. The reduced levels of light can bring about fatigue, depression or feeling low, changes in appetite, apathy and disturbed sleep patterns. Conversely however, it seems that our memories may benefit from cloud cover, studies suggest that people performed better in memory tests when the weather was gloomy.
Drop the Pressure
Changes in atmosphere pressure can have an impact on sufferers of headaches and migraines. As the pressure becomes lower this can cause changes to oxygen levels. It is thought that the blood vessels in the head expand or contract to compensate for this.
Further studies have shown that if you are heavily pregnant there is a chance that your waters may break as your uterus expands in response to the change in atmosphere.
Feeling the cold
During the winter months the Met Office works closely with the Department of Health to make sure that they can provide timely information to healthcare professionals and the general public in order to keep people well. In the UK alone there are, on average, 25,000 extra deaths in the winter compared to other months of the year. Blood can thicken in the cold because of the increase in blood clotting factor fibrinogen. The cold can thicken blood, increase blood pressure and tighten the airways, making those who have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions more vulnerable to risk of stroke. Experts suggest that the optimum temperature for the general living area of a house is 21 degree Celsius and 18 degrees Celsius for a bedroom.
How true is it that the cold gives you a cold? Well according to a study from the Common Cold Centre, when colds are circulating many people are carrying the infection but showing no symptoms. When exposed to the cold weather, the once warm blood, that was supplying the white cells that fight infection, becomes chilled and the infection starts to take hold. So if going out, wrap up warm.
If you cant stand the heat…
Sunshine is good for us in small quantities and is needed by the body for the production of Vitamin D which is important for healthy growth. However, in extreme heat our heart rate rises, blood vessels expand to let more blood reach the skins surface and we sweat more often causing dehydration. The combination of dehydration and loss of blood from the central nervous system can lead to fainting. This is a particular risk to young children and the elderly. Check the temperature in your bedroom, hot temperatures over night can make it difficult for the body to cool – experts suggest 18 degrees Celsius to be the optimum temperature to sleep in, and 21 degrees Celsius for the living area.
The lighter side of health.
Other, more cheery effects of a sunny day is the impact it can have on our mood. There is a photoreceptive system within the eye that is separate from the visual system. This photoreceptive system is light sensitive and directly attached to the arousal system in the brain. When light passes through this photoreceptive system, the neurotransmitter serotonin is released. This is the chemical that helps us to feel good and uplifted. When there is reduced daylight less serotonin is released and instead the opposing chemical, melatonin, becomes dominant. Melatonin induces the sleep process and can leave us feeling ‘half asleep’. Usually this system works well, as night time falls our body responds naturally by producing melatonin but when it is grey and dark during the day the combination of reduced serotonin and raised melatonin can cause a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is now a widely recognised clinical condition and there are medically proven light therapy products available to support sufferers re-dress the balance.
Sometimes the effect is physiological or sometimes psychological, either way we cannot deny the inextricable link between our wellbeing and natures environment. So much so, the MetOffice have a dedicated service, Healthy Outlook. This service was designed specifically to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, stay well throughout the year.
If you have any concerns the effect the weather has on health refer to the met office website http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/health/public.