Healthy living

Staying healthy in winter

Winter is often a welcome change in Western Australia after our long, hot summers.

But while we live in a temperate climate, winter in most parts means significant drops in temperatures, greater rainfall and storms.

Several health conditions are specifically associated with the climatic conditions during our coldest season.

We’ve prepared some tips to help protect you and your family from those illnesses most associated with winter.

Preventing colds, flu and infections

Colds and flu are particularly common in winter. More than 200 viruses cause the common cold.

Flu (influenza) is caused by a different group of viruses and is a far more severe health condition that can lead to death.

Antibiotics are not a suitable treatment for colds and flu because antibiotics target bacteria, not viruses.

Take steps to protect yourself from colds and flu this season.

To do this you need to:

  • get immunised and protect yourself from flu
  • cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • throw tissues in the bin after you use them
  • wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze
  • use alcohol based hand sanitisers
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs spread this way
  • try to avoid close contact with people who have a flu-like illness.

If you have a flu-like symptoms you should:

  • stay home from work or school
  • limit contact with other people to keep from infecting them.

No treatment will cure your cold, or make it go away more quickly, but if you get plenty of rest and stay hydrated you can expect to recover quicker.

Medication

Taking paracetamol will help to relieve your headache, muscle aches and reduce your fever.

It’s important to check the active ingredients on your medications and be careful you don’t double dose (many cold and flu medicines have paracetamol as an active ingredient).

Discuss medicines with your pharmacist or doctor before using or giving to children to make sure they are safe.

The flu vaccination can help to protect you against getting the flu.

Eat nutritious food

Eating food high in nutritional value will feed your body the vitamins, rich carbohydrates and fats that give you the nourishment you need to recover more quickly.

While, it may be tempting to eat more food in winter, it is better to eat a well-balanced diet throughout the year.

Try to include foods in your diet that are:

  • high in antioxidants, protein and fibre
  • high in vitamins B, C, D and E
  • low in sugars and fats.

Eat healthier this winter and try some of our nutrient packed recipes.

Drink plenty of water

It’s also important to hydrate yourself by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

In summer, the hot weather reminds us that we are thirsty.

It’s easy to neglect hydration when the weather becomes cooler because we think our body doesn’t need any more water.

Skin problems, like eczema, also become more common in the winter because of the change in temperature, blustery weather and indoor heating can dry out our skin

Keeping your body well hydrated will help to keep your skin healthy, flush out toxins and ward off winter bugs.

Keep yourself active

It’s common to feel less motivated during the winter months and even getting out of bed can sometimes feel like a chore.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition associated with winter, and can be offset by keeping active and maintaining regular contact with others.

We’re lucky living in WA, as our Mediterranean climate means that while winter is our wettest season, we also enjoy many cool, sunny days.

Try to get into a routine of getting out and doing some exercise, whether it is walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift or escalator instead swap your normal routine by go for a daily walk.

Stay warm and consider others

Winter can be a tough time for many people in our community.

Winter is a good time to check up on how our friends, relatives and neighbours who may be more vulnerable than you to cold weather are feeling

Cold weather is especially dangerous for older people and people with pre-existing or chronic health conditions.

People with heart conditions or respiratory (breathing) problems including children wheezing may have worse symptoms during a cold spell and for several days after temperatures return to normal.

To keep warm and well during periods of cold weather you should:

  • keep curtains drawn and doors closed to block draughts
  • have regular hot drinks and at least one hot meal a day if possible
  • eating regularly helps keep energy levels up during winter
  • wear several light layers of warm clothes (rather than one chunky layer) keep as active as possible.
How to avoid household mould

Winter rainfall and darkness can contribute to mould growing in your home.

Mould is a fungus that thrives in damp and dark places and flourishes in cold weather.

Mould can be found in your home in:

  • wardrobe spaces if there is not enough ventilation
  • areas where there is an external retaining wall close to your house bordering gardens that are reticulated
  • wet areas such as bathrooms and laundries
  • any part of your home that is not kept dry.

Health conditions caused by mould include:

  • runny nose
  • eye irritations
  • cough
  • congestion
  • asthma/ respiratory infections
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • headaches.

The most practical way to control mould is to have good ventilation, adequate heating and keeping your home and wet surfaces clean and dry.

Minimise the effects of residential wood smoke

Wood smoke can come from wood heaters, open fire places, backyard burning, pizza ovens and chimineas.

Smoke is made up of fine particles which can take a toll on your health by causing:

Low levels of wood smoke affect people with respiratory or cardiovascular disease, the young and elderly the most.

Inhaling high levels of smoke can also affect healthy people.

Make sure you take steps to manage wood smoke:

  • don’t use treated/ stained/ painted wood
  • chop wood into smaller pieces
  • store wood in a well-ventilated area
  • don’t overfill your heater and ensure there is plenty of air circulation
  • check your wood heater and chimney regularly to ensure no smoke is being produced
  • consider changing your heating system to gas or electric heaters

Learn more about the health effects of wood smoke.

Managing asthma

Asthma affects 1 in 10 Australians.

As colds and flu are more common in winter, the change of climate can trigger asthma attacks in children.

Breathing in cold air, wood smoke, and mould associated with winter climates, can also induce asthma symptoms.

Asthma symptoms include:

  • coughing – possibly starting with a dry cough
  • wheezing – a whistling or high pitched sound which may be heard as air is pushed out of narrow tight airways
  • shortness of breath – breathing may become quicker and shallow. This leads to breaths out which are prolonged and forced
  • tight chest – younger children may describe tummy ache, due the work of the “tummy” muscle (diaphragm) to assist with the work of breathing
  • possible vomiting associated with severe attacks.

Severe asthma symptoms include:

  • feeling very distressed and frightened
  • gasping for breath
  • being unable to speak more than single words
  • struggling to breathe
  • frequently sucking in at the throat and tummy (stomach).

Life threatening asthma symptoms include:

  • being unable to move and speak
  • appearing pale and blue around the lips
  • no audible wheezing.

Asthma can be treated by using medicated inhalers.

What you need to do

If you have asthma and are experiencing symptoms, follow the advice of your asthma action plan.

People experiencing asthma for the first time, should see their doctor for a diagnosis.

If you, your child, or someone you know is experiencing severe or life threatening asthma symptoms seek urgent medical attention and phone triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Planning ahead before you travel

Many people living in WA, particularly older people tend to travel north for winter.

There are simple measures you can take to help protect the health and well-being of yourself and those you care about before you leave.

People who are elderly or those with chronic or existing health conditions need extra special care and attention.

You can minimise potential health complications by visiting a doctor and having a general examination to discuss any health issues that may impact on travel plans.

Your doctor will prescribe medications you may need and address any health concerns to prepare you for the trip.

Healthy tips for older travellers

Older travellers have specific needs, these include:

  • packing and storing medications properly
  • carrying repeat scripts
  • ensuring scripts are filled in-advance to avoid running out of medication
  • keeping doctor, pharmacy, family and emergency numbers within reach
  • preparing a medication reminder system to ensure medications are taken on time (this could include setting an alarm)
  • packing a first aid kit to use to manage small cuts and abrasions
  • seeking advice regarding travel insurance and ambulance cover before leaving.

If you are travelling overseas, check that your immunisations are up to date and see your doctor to prepare before you leave to avoid risks to your health.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Staying active, keeping warm and eating nutritious food will boost your immunity.
  • Children are more susceptible to asthma attacks during winter.
  • You have a higher risk of developing health complications if you have a respiratory condition.
  • Immunisation can help protect you from getting the flu.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Image: People sitting on a bus. Text: The flu. As easy to catch as a bus. Get the flu vaccine. Learn more.