Advice on how to stay healthy in winter if you have a long-term illness

As part of the Cork Kerry Winter Ready 2020 campaign, Maeve Carmody, Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Self-Management Support Co-ordinator, says there are lots of things people can do to stay healthy this winter
Advice on how to stay healthy in winter if you have a long-term illness

Winter weather can make symptoms worse for some people. Picture: Stock

THE arrival of winter brings cold, damp weather which is unpleasant for everyone but for people with long-term health conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes or heart failure, winter is a time to be extra careful.

Winter weather can make symptoms worse for some people. Cold air may cause a person’s airways to become narrower. This can make breathing even more difficult for someone with COPD or asthma.

Cold weather makes the heart work harder to keep the body warm. This puts an extra strain on the heart particularly for people with heart failure.

Despite the current change and uncertainty, if you have a long-term health condition, you still need to do the things that help you stay well this winter:

1. Keep warm and keep well

- If you’re outdoors, wrap up in layers and make sure you keep your head, hands and feet warm and cosy.

- Susan O’Sullivan, HSE Senior Physiotherapist advises loosely wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air going into your lungs. For the Irish weather she suggests investing in a pair of wellies and a good rain coat to help keep you dry.

- Keep your home warm but ventilated. For more information and for a handy temperature card to use in your home go to https://www.seai.ie/publications/Keeping-Well-and-Warm-booklet.pdf

- Have at least 1 hot meal a day – eating regularly helps keep you warm. Hot drinks also help.

- Having a healthy balanced diet is important for good health all year round not just in winter.

- Speak to your GP about a vitamin D supplement during the winter months when there is less sunlight.

2. Keep Active

Winter weather conditions can make all of us less active, but Susan says it is especially important to continue to keep moving.

This is not only important for your physical and mental health but keeping active also helps keep you warm.

Cold, wet weather or icy conditions may mean you can’t go outdoors but there are ways to keep active indoors.

Go to https://www.sivuh.ie/departments/physiotherapy/letsgetmoving.html for useful exercises and advice from HSE physiotherapists.

3. Protect yourself against colds and Flu

Winter heralds the start of infections such as colds and flu. Get the flu vaccine every year and make sure your pneumonia vaccine is up to date. Ask those close to you to get the flu vaccine also.

Wash your hands often. Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, bin used tissues and then wash your hands.

4. Monitor Your Health

Review the management of your condition with your G.P. or healthcare team.

Take your medication daily as prescribed and make sure you are using your medical devices including inhalers correctly.

Know what to do if your condition gets worse or if you feel unwell.

Follow the advice of your healthcare team. Having an up to date action plan or self management plan can also help you to manage your condition:

Asthma action plan available on www.asthma.ie.

COPD Communication card and Self-management plan: both available on www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/copd.html

Heart Failure: Whatever your treatment plan, it is very important that you monitor your heart failure symptoms every day and take action when you notice any deterioration. You can download a heart failure self-management plan on www.heartbeattrust.ie/general-info/information/

Diabetes: Infections and illness can cause blood glucose (sugar) levels to rise. Jennifer O’Mahony, Diabetes Nurse Specialist in CUH advises people to have their ‘sick day guidelines’ to hand and to ring your GP or diabetes team for advice regarding your diabetes medication if required. Jennifer also advises that people with diabetes who are at risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) carry their hypo treatment and glucometer with them and never to drive if their blood glucose is less than 5mmol/l.

Louise Creed, HSE Primary Care Pharmacist has the following advice - Know Check Ask:

  • Know your medicines and keep an up to date list, bringing it to appointments and if admitted to hospital. A medicine list can be found at www.safermeds.ie
  • Check that you are using the right medicine the right way including inhalers
  • Ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist if you’re unsure
  • Make sure you have a working thermometer. A high temperature (38°C or above) is one of the symptoms of Coronavirus. You need to be able to check your temperature at home
  • Order your prescription in advance especially during poor weather and before Christmas. Your GP can email your prescription to your Pharmacy so you do not need to visit the surgery. If you are unable to visit the Pharmacy, ask about delivery options.

Jennifer O’Mahony advises diabetics on continuous or flash glucose monitoring to order their transmitters and sensors in good time. Also people on pumps should have insulin pens at home in the event of pump failure.

For more practical information on managing your long-term health condition go to https://www.hse.ie/selfmanagementsupport

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