The winter months bring an increased risk of illness, as cold and flu viruses spread more easily when people gather indoors. The colder temperatures and lower humidity levels allow viruses to remain infectious for longer periods of time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu season typically peaks between December and February. The flu virus causes high fevers, body aches, fatigue, coughing, and sneezing. Each year an average of 5-20% of the U.S. population gets the flu, leading to tens of thousands of hospitalizations.
Other viruses like the common cold, RSV, sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and stomach bugs also circulate more during winter months. The close contact of the holiday season and winter gatherings leads to increased transmission of these illnesses.
Having health insurance during the winter is critical to cover doctor’s visits, hospitalizations, and medications to treat any illness one may contract. The costs of these medical services can quickly add up without insurance.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
As the days get shorter and colder in winter, some people develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is characterized by depressive symptoms that occur during the same season each year. SAD is triggered by less exposure to sunlight in winter. The lack of sunlight disrupts your body’s internal clock and leads to feelings of depression.
The most common symptoms of SAD include:
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Low energy and increased need for sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Feelings of sadness, guilt, and worthlessness
SAD is estimated to impact 10 million Americans each year. The condition is more prevalent in northern latitudes, where there are fewer daylight hours in winter. Women are also diagnosed with SAD 4 times more often than men. The exact causes are still being researched, but serotonin and melatonin levels are believed to play a role. Light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications can help manage symptoms.
With the increased risk of mental health issues like SAD in winter, having health insurance to cover treatment is crucial. Don’t wait until it’s too late in the season to enroll in a plan.
Heart Attacks and Strokes
Cold winter weather can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Studies show that cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, which can raise blood pressure. Additionally, cholesterol levels may rise in the winter months. These factors combine to place extra strain on the cardiovascular system.
Research has clearly demonstrated a link between cold temperatures and increased rates of heart attacks and strokes. One study published in the British Medical Journal found that heart attack rates rose by over 10% for every 18°F drop in temperature. The cold causes changes in blood composition that can lead to clots and blockages in arteries.
Another study showed that with every 10°F decrease in temperature, the risk of stroke rose by over 6%. Scientists believe that the cold triggers processes in the body that make blood stickier and more likely to clot. These clots can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
The elderly and those with existing heart conditions are most vulnerable to cold-related cardiovascular events. Steps to reduce risk include monitoring blood pressure, wearing warm clothing, and avoiding sudden temperature changes. Talk to your doctor about preventing cold-weather heart issues. Don’t let the frigid winter put your health at risk.
Slips and Falls
The icy conditions that come with winter weather lead to an increase in slips and falls outside the home. Walking on slippery sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots puts people at higher risk for injuries like sprains, fractures, and head trauma.
Falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries during winter. They often occur when stepping down from a curb, getting out of a vehicle, transitioning from a slippery surface to dry ground, or walking on compacted snow and ice. Poor lighting and winter footwear with inadequate traction also contribute to more frequent falling.
Seniors face the greatest risk from winter falls and are advised to use ice cleats or creepers on their shoes for stability. Removing snow and ice promptly from walkways can also help reduce hazards. But even for younger, able-bodied individuals, the winter conditions make falling more likely. A simple slip can easily result in a broken wrist or tailbone. Head injuries from falls are also a possibility, especially for elderly individuals.
Keeping safe from winter falls involves taking preventative measures like wearing boots with good traction, watching your step, and holding onto railings. But being prepared for injuries with comprehensive health insurance gives you an important safety net if you do wind up with an urgent care or emergency room visit this winter.
Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6°F, and hypothermia sets in when the core body temperature drops below 95°F.
The early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion and disorientation. As hypothermia progresses, shivering stops and the person may lose consciousness. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to cardiac arrest and death.
Infants and elderly people are at the greatest risk of hypothermia. Other high-risk groups include people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, those who are exhausted or suffer from pre-existing medical conditions, and homeless individuals. Prolonged exposure to cold, wet, and windy conditions substantially increases the risk.
To treat mild hypothermia, get the person out of the cold and into shelter. Remove any wet clothing and replace with warm, dry covers. Provide warm drinks (avoiding alcohol and caffeine) and high-calorie foods. More severe hypothermia requires medical attention, which may include rewarming blankets, warmed IV fluids, and other measures to stabilize body temperature.
The best way to avoid hypothermia is to dress appropriately for cold weather, limit exposure outdoors, stay active to generate body heat, keep hydrated and fueled with food and drink, and watch for signs of confusion or changes in coordination that can precede dangerously low body temperature. Seeking shelter at the first sign of symptoms can prevent a mild case from worsening into a life-threatening emergency.