Cold wave: 6 side effects of extremely cold weather on health

Extremely cold weather can have adverse effects on your body. As cold wave grips many states, know how extreme cold can affect your health.
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Extreme cold can have adverse effects on your health. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 11 Jan 2024, 14:30 pm IST
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In the last few days, the cold wave has intensified in northern India. As per the India Meteorological Department (IMD), cold conditions will continue for a while, and the same goes for a lot of other countries. It means you need to do everything you can to stay warm this winter. If you are exposed to cold weather for long, it can weaken your immune system. Once your immunity takes a hit, you may have to deal with health problems. Let us tell you how cold weather can affect your health and what you should do to stay protected.

Amid cold wave, the IMD reported dense fog conditions in the morning hours over North Indian states such as Punjab and Uttar Pradesh until January 14.

What is cold wave?

A cold wave is a type of weather phenomenon that involves a large-scale cooling of the air or the invasion of extremely cold air. It is also referred to as a cold snap or deep freeze, says internal medicine expert Dr Sudha Desai. It is identified by a sharp decline in the region’s average temperature.

Woman feeling cold
Protect yourself from the cold wave. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the adverse effects of extremely cold weather on health?

If you don’t take care, extreme cold can affect your physical as well as mental health. Here are some health risks you should be aware of:

1. Hypothermia

Extended exposure to low temperatures can result in hypothermia, where the body loses heat faster than it can generate it. Symptoms to watch out for include shivering, disorientation, fatigue, slurred speech and loss of coordination. Severe hypothermia can even be fatal, the expert tells Health Shots.

2. Breathing problems

Cold air can worsen respiratory ailments like bronchitis and asthma. It may lead to chest tightness, coughing and wheezing.

3. May lead to heart problems

Cold temperatures can cause vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), raising heart rate and blood pressure. This can strain the cardiovascular system, especially in individuals with pre-existing cardiac conditions, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

4. Frostbite

Exposure to extremely low temperatures can lead to frostbite, where the skin and underlying tissues freeze. The symptoms include blistering, tissue damage, pale or waxy skin, and numbness.

5. Mental health impact

Cold waves, with their gloomy weather and reduced sunlight, can contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), says Dr Desai. This may lead to feelings of depression, fatigue and lack of motivation.

6. Risk of infection

Prolonged exposure to cold weather can weaken the immune system. It can increase the susceptibility to respiratory infections such as the flu and common cold.

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How to stay healthy during a cold wave?

When it’s extremely cold, staying warm is crucial. However, you also need to avoid cold beverages, exercise often and eat healthy food.

Follow these tips so that you can enjoy this winter season instead of being sick.

1. Drink water

People tend to have less water during cold weather, but it’s crucial to keep your body hydrated. Make sure you consume 1.5 to 3 litres of water per day at the absolute least, says the expert. But you don’t have to limit your consumption to water. You can also have herbal tea, green tea, lemon tea, stews, broths and soups.

Woman drinking water
Stay hydrated during cold wave. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Consume fruits and vegetables

Consuming fruits and vegetables increases immunity and metabolism, which are two factors that help maintain a healthy weight throughout winter. A deficiency in fruits and vegetables can lead to nutritional deficits. Fibre, vitamins and minerals are all found in fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. Consider steam

Steam inhalation can help with respiratory health during winter by easing cough and cold symptoms. Inhaling steam can also give your body the much-needed warmth. Just be careful not to do it every day as breathing in too much steam might harm the delicate tissues in your nose and throat.

4. Wear clothes appropriate for the season

Keep yourself warm and dress appropriately. If you do not cover yourself properly, you are more susceptible to infections, colds and coughs. While it is possible to acclimatise to the cold, most people’s bodies are not designed to withstand prolonged periods of intense cold. This can lead to other problems including hypothermia in addition to lowering the body’s immunity, says the expert.

What to keep in mind if you are stepping out in extreme cold?

You might want to spend the whole day in the comfort of your blanket and heater, but what to do when you have to step out for work. Before you head out, do the following:

  • Dress in layers to trap heat and protect against the cold.
  • Cover your fingers, toes, ears and nose.
  • Limit exposure and seek shelter periodically to avoid prolonged exposure.
  • Stay dry to prevent heat loss through wet clothing.
  • Keep moving to generate body heat, but avoid overexertion.

Make sure to stay updated on weather forecasts, and plan activities accordingly to avoid being caught in a cold wave.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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