Category Archives: Parish Nurse

Cranberries For Good Health

We know cranberry sauce as a staple at the holidays, but cranberries are a super-food that you should enjoy all year round.  Cranberries have vitamin C and fiber, and are only 45 calories per cup. In disease-fighting antioxidants, cranberries outrank nearly every fruit and vegetable – including strawberries, spinach, broccoli, red grapes, apples, raspberries, and cherries.

One cup of whole cranberries has 8,983 total antioxidant capacity. Only blueberries can top that: Wild varieties have 13,427; cultivated blueberries have 9,019.      Source: Web MD

Your Parish Nurse,  Kara

Flu Vaccines

Flu vaccines suffered some bad PR last winter, after federal officials learned that the 2014-2015 vaccine prevented a mere 19% of flu cases.  But one poorly performing vaccine doesn’t mean that future flue vaccines aren’t beneficial.

Vaccines are developed each year based on which flu strains health professionals believe will be the most predominant in the coming months.  Any flu vaccine reduces your chance of getting the virus, which means you are less likely to miss work, school or time with your family.  If you get the vaccine and still contract the virus, you may not get as sick as you would have otherwise, and that can mean a quicker recovery.

Your Parish Nurse,   Kara


The DELETE key is one of my favorite email buttons. If you don’t know who or what it is, delete it! Keep your personal numbers, (Social Security/Medicare, bank accounts) personal. The delete function on your phone is called “hanging-up!” It’s your phone, and you do not have to listen if it sounds odd.  Will doing all this make it stop? Wish it were so. We’re people, and sometimes we will get fooled. Sharing what we find and letting others know what they can do, however, can make a difference. Be a part of the solution, if you actively do something, it will stop making you feel like a victim and you’ll start feeling like part of the solution. Do something today to stop Medicare fraud. <!–split–>

Change In Medicare Numbers Can Be Jackpot For Scammers!

Congress passed a bill April 2015 to replace the Social Security numbers on Medicare cards with a randomly  selected number. They have four years to set up the system for new cards, and four more years to reissue cards to current Medicare beneficiaries. The bad news is scammers will exploit this information to confuse older adults in an effort to get them to give out their Medicare information over the phone.

The calls will likely sound like this; “Hello, this is Medicare and we have good news for you. We are changing your Medicare number and it will no longer be your Social Security number. This will make you safe from identity theft. But, before we make the switch, we need to verify your current information.” That’s a big RED flag that this is a scam, asking you to verify information. Whenever you get a call or email from someone asking to verify information, especially personal information like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or credit card numbers, it is a scam. They may have a little information about you, but they need more to complete the picture. The information they are asking from you is the piece of the puzzle they need to complete their file on you; and they will take this information and either steal your identity or bill Medicare for items and services you do not need.

Never give any kind of personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone, no matter how convincing they sound. Remember that Medicare, Social Security and the IRS will never call you on the phone.” Be alert to potential scams. Do not fall for calls, postcards, or emails that offer to help you get your new Medicare card. Contact the Iowa Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) if you have any questions or if you would like to receive information about how to protect, detect and report fraud and abuse at 1-800-423-2449.

News distributed by Nancy Creery, Iowa Senior Medicare Patrol Program Coordinator, Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging (NEI3A), Waterloo, IA, 1-800-423-2449.

Iowa Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) a project of: Milestones Area Agency on Aging July 2015 Monthly News You Can Use Permission granted to AAAs to reprint these articles with credit given to Iowa SMP.

Your Parish Nurse,  Kara

13 Ways the Sun Affects Your Body: The Good & The Bad

The sun can sometimes get a bad rap for only having negative effects on our health, when in fact, it has many positive effects for our overall health. Like many other things, sunshine should be enjoyed in moderation to avoid things like a nasty sunburn or heat rash. <!–split–>

The Good                                                                                                                                                               Enhances Your Mood:  The great thing about sunlight is that it is a free mood enhancer. When the body receives sunlight, the amount of serotonin created in the body increases. Serotonin is the body’s “happy” hormone, as it is essential to mood regulation.  Because of the increase of serotonin, we feel happier!

Treats Seasonal Affective Disorder:  In certain people, the lack of sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is actually a form of depression. SAD generally begins in the fall and continues through the winter. It is possible for Seasonal Affective Disorder to continue through the spring and summer, but it is very rare. Symptoms include feeling depressed, changes in mood, social problems, overeating, lethargy and oversleeping.

Stress Reliever:  Stress is something we all experience, and it is caused by a variety of factors such as family, work and health.  One of the ways that stress can be relieved is through exposure to the sunlight. Serotonin, the “happy” hormone, is triggered by sunlight. Serotonin levels in the brain are higher during the summer, when the days of the year are at their longest.

Improves Sleep:  It may be hard to believe, but sunlight affects our sleeping patterns. Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle based on light and darkness and influences our sleep-wake cycles. Our brains receive information from the incoming light which helps the brain turn on or turn off our internal clocks. If it’s darker, the brain makes more melatonin, a hormone that makes a person feel drowsy. Likewise, if it’s light out, the brain produces less melatonin.

Vitamin D:  Sunlight’s best known benefit is how it boosts the body’s supply of vitamin D. Most deficiencies of vitamin D can be attributed to the lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D also triggers the absorption of calcium in the bones. However, it is not necessary to tan or get a sunburn in order to receive the proper amount of vitamin D that your body needs.

The Bad

Cataracts:  A cataract is clouding in the eye’s lens that will obscure a person’s vision. Cataracts can form in people who have had prolonged exposure to sunlight. The majority of UV light from the sun enters the eye through its lens. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can irritate or potentially burn the lens of the eye. You can prevent cataracts by wearing sunglasses while outside. A hat that has a brim can also prevent the ultraviolet light from entering the lens of the eye.

Heat Stroke or Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion is a mild form of heat illness that develops after several days of exposure to high temperatures and lack of replacement fluids. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and cannot cool itself. Symptoms include:  heavy sweating, fatigue, dizziness, weak pulse, headache.  If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is much more dangerous and can be life threatening because the body’s temperature can rise above 104 degrees in a matter of minutes. Symptoms of heat stroke include flushed skin, rapid pulse and dizziness. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention because if it is left untreated, the heart, muscles, kidneys and even the brain can be damaged.

Sun Burns:  Sunburn is widely recognized as one of the most common negative side effects of too much sun exposure. The symptoms of sunburn do not usually appear until about 4 hours after the sun exposure and they worsen around 24-36 hours after exposure.  Symptoms of sunburn include:  tender skin, headaches, fever, blisters, nausea.  Severe burns, a fever, severe pain or blisters that are filled with fluid as a result from sunburn require immediate attention from a medical professional.

Heat Rash:  A heat rash is a skin rash that occurs when sweat ducts trap perspiration under the skin. Heat rash often takes place during hot, humid weather and takes the form of blisters or red bumps. Adults may develop heat rash in skin folds or where clothing is tight to the skin. In infants, heat rash is normally found on the chest, neck or shoulders.  Heat rash can be treated by staying in a cool environment to prevent sweating and by keeping the affected area of skin dry. Loosening tight clothing can also help relieve the symptoms of heat rash.

Skin Cancer:  Skin cancer is the most prevalent of cancers with 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year. Skin cancer can develop from excessive exposure to the sun, severe sunburns, family history, older age, and other causes. Fortunately, it is unlikely you will develop skin cancer if you avoid long exposure to sunlight, apply sunscreen, and wear protective clothing and sunglasses while spending time outside.

Melanoma:  According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma will account for 73 percent of cases of invasive skin cancers in 2015. Melanoma is one of the most frequently found cancer among 20-35 year-olds and can occur on any part of the skin, including areas that are not exposed to the sun. This form of cancer is more likely to spread to other areas of the body that can be more difficult to treat. This results in melanoma causing the most skin cancer deaths. However, if detected in its early stages, melanoma has a greater chance of being cured.

Wrinkles:  Most wrinkles are due to aging skin, but high UV exposure can cause wrinkles to form by breaking down collagen and fibers in the skin. However, there are many remedies for wrinkles, including refraining from tanning and using moisturizer daily.

Ages Skin:  Skin will naturally age, but sunlight causes the aging process to accelerate. This is known as photo-aging. UV rays damage collagen and increase the production of elastin in the skin. When the elastin attempts to rebuild collagen, the skin is often rebuilt incorrectly, resulting in decreased strength and elasticity of the skin. The skin can also be rebuilt in the form of dark or discolored spots or with a leathery texture.

Tanning Beds Are NOT Better:   A common misconception is that tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D. However, you can get enough vitamin D from food and sun. In the United States, over 419,000 skin cancer cases are attributed to indoor tanning. Furthermore, a study completed in 2012 found a connection between indoor tanning and melanoma and a separate study from 2010 found that the risk of melanoma increased the more time a person spends inside a tanning booth.

Protect Yourself   

Much of the damage to our skin caused by the sun can be prevented. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. It’s important to apply sunscreen before going outside, and if you plan to stay outside for more than two hours, sunscreen should be re-applied. Another way to protect yourself is to cover up with sunglasses, proper clothing and a hat. If you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, find a place with shade to protect yourself from the UV rays.

Your Parish Nurse, Kara


There is a vaccine called Zostavax which can greatly reduce the number of Shingles outbreaks a person would otherwise experience. Shingles is a painful rash consisting of blisters that run along nerve pathways. Each outbreak lasts from 2-4 weeks, and the pain can be quite severe. In some cases, the pain lasts a month or more after the blisters disappear. <!–split–>

Only people who have had chicken pox can get shingles. The virus that causes chicken pox does not go away – instead it hides in nerve cells that are located near the spinal cord. In most people, the virus will simply be dormant (inactive), but as people age and their resistance weakens, the virus can “come to life.” When it does, the virus multiples and damages these nerve cells, and that is what causes the pain. The first symptom a person will usually have is pain, itching, or even a tingling on one side of the body or face. Then the virus travels to the skin causing blisters. To make matters worse, some people progress to post herpetic neuralgia, which is severe, chronic pain that lasts long after the initial outbreak. Post herpetic neuralgia causes a great deal of physical and emotional suffering, because even clothing or a cool breeze touching the area can cause pain.

Major risk factors for developing shingles are advancing age and reduced resistance. Shingles cannot be passed on to another person, but the virus could be spread by direct contact to someone who has never had chicken pox and give them that disease.

Half of all people who reach age 85 will experience shingles. Because people are living longer, there is a need for a vaccine of this kind. This vaccine was only tested on people over 60  years of age, so it is currently not approved for anyone under 60. While it only prevented half the number of expected outbreaks, for those who did have an episode, the pain and general discomfort was reduced by 60%, as compared to the placebo group. The study revealed few serious side effects. The good news is that even a person who has had an episode of shingles can get the vaccine and reap the befits of its protection.

And more good news: the percentage of people who developed post herpetic neuralgia was reduced by two-thirds. The vaccine is not a treatment for anyone with shingles or post herpetic neuralgia, it’s meant as a preventative.

The Merck pharmaceutical company predicts that this vaccine can prevent 250,000 cases of shingles a year, and greatly reduce the severity of the symptoms in another 250,000. In the U.S., there are over 50 million people over 60, and 95% of them had chicken pox as a child. All these people will be at risk for developing shingles! The initial study followed vaccinated people for 4 years, and will continue to follow these patients to determine how long the befits of the vaccine lasts before a booster is needed.

Your Parish Nurse, Kara

For more information, check out: and

©J. Witucki, RN, BSN 2009

Aging Well

“Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”  (Isaiah 46:3-4)

Everyone knows that as we age, our minds and bodies decline, and life inevitably becomes less satisfying and enjoyable. Everyone knows that cognitive (mental ability) decline is inevitable. Everyone knows that as we get old, we become less productive … well, everyone, it seems is wrong! A growing body of scientific research shows that, in my ways, life gets better as we get older… <!–split–>

A Wall Street Journal report notes, “contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of loneliness, depression, and decline, a growing body of evidence indicates that our moods and overall sense of well-being improve with age.”

Let’s debunk some of the common myths ….

MYTH # 1:  Depression is more prevalent.  Research indicates that emotional well-being improves until the 70’s when it levels off. Older adults tend to focus on positive rather than negative motions and memories, because they tend to prioritize emotional meaning and satisfaction: older adults tend to be happier, less anxious, less angry, and tend to adapt well to the circumstances.

MYTH # 2: Cognitive decline is inevitable.  As we age, our brains undergo structural changes, and neurons that carry messages becomes less efficient, causing concentration and memory slip (this begins around the age of 30!) But recent discoveries indicate that – barring dementia – older adults perform better in the real world. Cognitive tests often underestimate the true abilities of older adults; while in the real world, most of what we do is based on the knowledge we have acquired, and older adults who are tested in familiar situations show few of the deficits that crop up in laboratory tests!  (Learning new skills – learning to quilt, use an iPad, or take digital photos – help us to improve memory and processing speed.)

MYTH # 3: Older workers are less productive. Workers 55 and older make up 22% of the U.S. workforce, up from 12% in 1992. The majority of academic studies shows “virtually no relationship between age and job performance.” In fact, some studies show that older adults have a performance “edge” because they seem to know better how to avoid serious errors (experience, plus judgment).

MYTH # 4:  Loneliness is more likely. As people age, their social circles contract, but friendships tend to improve with age … we know who our real friends are! Older adults report better marriages, more supportive friendships, less conflict, and closer ties with members of this social networks than younger adults and fewer problematic relationships that case them distress. They have learned to eliminate those people from their social circle whom they feel less close to and maximize the time with close partners who are more emotionally satisfying.

MYTH # 5:  Creativity declines with age. Studies dating back as far as the 1800’s show midlife as the time when artists and scholars are most prolific. Historians and philosophers may reach their peak output when they’re in the 60’s, while conceptual artists tend to do their best work in their 20’s-30’s. Experimental artists requires a few more decades to reach full potential, improving with experience. Think Mark Twain, Paul Cezanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Frost who all relied on wisdom, which increases with age.

MYTH # 6: More exercise is better!  When it comes to improving health and longevity, exercise is key, but a growing number of studies show that more is not always better. In research published in 2013 scientists at institutions including Iowa State University, found that long-term strenuous endurance exercise may cause “overuse injury” to the heart. Their recommendations: stick to a moderate workout of no more than 50-60 minutes of exercise daily, and take at least one day off each week. Current guidelines suggest 30 minutes of moderate exercise – walking at a good pace – 5-6 days a week still promotes health without the risks of injury that strenuous exercise may inflict. Doing it with a walking partner gets you out, gets you active, and affords you the social contact that it as important as loose limbs!

For more information, go to by Marla Lichtsinn, RN, MPA, FCN, Parish Nurse    (permission granted to reprint)

Your Parish Nurse, Kara

11 Lessons for Graduates and You

Graduation is a time when many contemplate their future and purpose. It can be both a time of great excitement and worry. I certainly remember the anxiousness I felt after graduation. So whether you are graduating high school or college, know a graduate or perhaps you are graduating to the next level of your life and career, I wanted to share 11 lessons from The Seed that I hope will empower and inspire you on your journey. <!–split–>

  1. You are here for a reason and the most important thing you can do in life is to find, live and share your purpose. It’s the one thing in life that truly matters, and if you don’t pursue it, everything else is meaningless.
  2. Follow your passion. It so often leads you to your purpose. You may not know what your passion is right now. That’s ok. The important thing is to make it your life mission to find it, live it and share it. To help find your passion, seek out jobs and experiences that allow you to use your strengths and gifts. Do what energizes you.
  3. Beware of hobbies. Just because you love spending time on Facebook doesn’t mean you would enjoy working for the company. And just because you love to cook doesn’t mean you would enjoy owning a restaurant. For example, I owned restaurants but I realized I didn’t love the food business. I loved the service and marketing aspect of the business.
  4. Quit for the right reasons. Don’t quit because work is hard or you’re experiencing challenges. Quit because in your heart you know there is something else for you to do. Quit because you are not benefitting yourself or the organization you work for. Quit because you are absolutely certain you are no longer supposed to be there.
  5. Learn from every job and experience. Every job, good or bad, prepares you for the work you were ultimately born to do.
  6. Your current job may not be your ultimate purpose but it can serve as a vehicle to live and share your purpose.
  7. Whatever job(s) you take after graduation simply decide to serve. When you serve in small ways you’ll get more opportunities to serve in bigger ways.
  8. Your dream job is likely not the one you dreamed about. So often we end up in amazing careers that have nothing to do with our college degree or childhood dreams.
  9. The quest for your purpose is not a straight line. It is filled with mystery, signs, obstacles, victories, dead ends, delays and detours. Your job is to stay optimistic and faithful on your quest
  10. Don’t rush the future. There is a process that seeds must go through in order to become all they are destined to become, and you must go through this same process to become the person you are meant to be and do the work you are meant to do. You may want things to happen NOW but more than likely if you got what you wanted NOW you wouldn’t be ready for it. The purpose process prepares you, strengthens you, shapes you and grows you to be successful, not in your time, but in the right time.
  11. Be the Seed. Seeds surrender themselves to the ground so they can be used for a greater purpose. Wherever you work, decide to plant yourself where you are and allow yourself to be used for a greater purpose. When you plant yourself and make a difference you grow into the person you were born to be and produce a harvest that will benefit others and change the world.

Taken from

Your Parish Nurse, Kara

Finding Time To Exercise

Finding the time to exercise is often as much of a challenge as a new aerobic workout.  In fact, the number one reason given for not exercising is lack of time.  That’s why it is important to come up with a regular exercise schedule – one that lets you know where and when you’re planning to work out each week.   <!–split–>

Of course, plans can change but it’s better to skip a scheduled exercise session than to have no schedule at all.  If you save your workouts for whenever a spare moment “pops up,” you’ll end up exercising infrequently.  Your own schedule might involve a variety of workout times, morning workouts on some days, for example, and lunchtime or after work exercise sessions on other days.  The key is to find a blend that works for you and to stick with it.  You may find it helpful to mark your calendar and schedule your planned workouts in advance.  Keep track of how often you work out.  It is important to find an exercise schedule that fits your lifestyle and includes activities you enjoy.   There are many new pedometers and step counters available to help you keep track of your activity.  They can be fun to use and motivate you to increase your activities.  If you are not used to doing any type of exercise activity, start with walking.  You can start at just a few minutes a day and work up to the recommended 30 minutes per day.  Your stamina will improve as you continue any exercise program.  Warm weather is on the way!  Sunshine and flowers will be here.  What better way to brighten your day than to take a walk and enjoy the sun and flowers of spring!

Young Adult Depression:  Not Just Another Bad Mood

Depression is the most common emotional problem in adolescence and young adulthood, and yet it is difficult to diagnose because young people are notorious for their moodiness.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to 8% of American young adults suffer from major depression, but many parents don’t recognize the signs.  According to a 2009 survey, about 20% of high school students have considered suicide.  Each year, 8-11 in every 100,000 young adults do take their own lives, as many as those who die from all natural causes combined.  Depression can also result in intense family conflict, poor choice of peers, marginal or no personal achievements and poor coping ability, all of which can have a lasting effect on a teenager’s life.

Warning Signs

Mood Changes:  Irritability, angry outbursts, sad sullen or weepy periods, withdrawal.  Keep in mind that family conflict can cause young adult depression, but young adult depression can also cause family conflict.

Changes in Appetite:  Sudden over or under eating; significant gain or loss of weight.  Eating disorders are frequently  accompanied by depression.

Lack of Interest:  No longer enjoying social activities, hobbies or sports.

Bad Sleep Patterns:  Difficulties falling or staying asleep; excessive or diminished sleep.

Changes in Energy Level:  Frequent fatigue, agitation or restlessness.

School Problems:  Difficulty focusing or concentrating; feeling fuzzy; unable to sustain mental effort; decline in grades;  misbehaving; refusal to go or disinterest in school.

Self-Criticism:  Taking blame for things that are not their fault; intense dissatisfaction with their appearance or other attributes.

Rumination:  Worrying or obsessing about problems.

Inability to Cope:  Overwhelmed by everyday stresses; difficulty recovering from a significant event or problem; pessimism or negative thinking.

Recurrent Thoughts about Death or Suicide:  Morbid interests; self-injurious behavior.

Aches and Pains:  Physical discomfort without medical causes.

Successful treatment can be achieved by parents and physicians asking direct questions about the young adult’s general level of happiness, moods, activities, achievement and problems.  Offering to help will open the door for the young adult to contact you later should the young adult ever suspect that he/she might be depressed.  Keep in mind that a family history of depression is a risk factor.

Parents are advised to make efforts to talk to their young adults even if they are initially rebuffed.  Be careful not to minimize their young adult’s moods as “just a phase” or “hormonal fluctuations” and be alerted to the possible seriousness of their young adult’s difficulties.

If you have a young adult that is seriously depressed, it is a good precaution to lock up all medications, remove guns from the house and institute more careful supervision to prevent the young adult from engaging in reckless behavior.

The good news is that young adult depression is quite treatable with medication and individual and/or family therapy.

Your Parish Nurse, Kara

Valentine’s Day Tips

Whether you plan to celebrate on your own or with someone special, use these tips to give a gift of health to you or  someone you love on Valentine’s Day and all year long.  <!–split–>



  • Make A Date With Your Heart! February is American Heart Month, and Valentine’s Day is a great time to start taking steps to be heart-healthy. Prevent and control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke. Limit alcohol use.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Be active.  Eat healthy.


  • Consider making a healthy meal for Valentine’s Day. Serve food lower in salt and fat content, provide more fruits and vegetables, and make less sugary sweets for an overall healthy Valentine’s Day.


  • Protect yourself from the cold and flu.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Avoid close contact when you or someone you know is sick.
  • Get your flu vaccine.


  • If you are going on a romantic getaway, be prepared.
  • Are vaccinations required?
  • Are there special items such as sunscreen or insect repellent that you will need?
  • If you take medications, do you have enough for the trip?
  • If you’re going on a cruise, learn the sanitation inspection scores for specific ships. Know what’s happening en route or at your travel destination.


  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. It is also the third leading cause of preventable death. Don’t drink and drive or let others drink and drive. Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should not drink


  • Gear up.Are you considering a new, potentially risky, or unsafe activity? Be sure to use appropriate safety gear, including seat belts, life vests, and helmets to help prevent injury.
  • Watch the sparks.If you decide to cook a romantic dinner, light some candles, or have a cozy fire, don’t leave them unattended.
  • Be aware.Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence, including intimate partner violence, than men. Risk factors such as drinking alcohol and using drugs are associated with a greater likelihood of violence.


  • Consider that your valentine may have allergies, asthma, diabetes, or other health conditions. You can be sensitive to your valentine by finding out if certain foods, flowers, pets, stuffed animals, or anything else might affect his or her health.

For more information go to:

Your Parish Nurse, Kara

How Cold Weather Affects Your Health

As the cold weather begins to set in, our bodies must prepare themselves for the harsh winter ahead.  Here are a few of the reasons that we are more prone to illness during the colder months, and tips on how to protect our bodies in lieu of these changes.  Read on to find out how to keep your immune system strong against the winter chill. <!–split–>

Vitamin D Deficiency: The human body needs sunlight to synthesize vitamin D, but as the weather gets colder, there are fewer daylight hours, so people go outside less and are covered up more. Some studies suggest that low levels of vitamin D can lead to weight gain by reducing fat breakdown and causing the body to store more calories as fat cells, instead of using them for energy.

Neural Chemistry: Melatonin and serotonin are hormones that play a part in controlling mood, energy levels and the sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to sunlight causes levels of these hormones to fluctuate. Melatonin is the hormone that helps you sleep and serotonin is connected with happiness and wakefulness. In the colder months, the brain produces more melatonin and less serotonin.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern, occurring most often in the months when there is less daylight. It is most common between the ages of 18-30 and affects more women than men. People with SAD may have abnormally low levels of serotonin and high levels of melatonin, which affects sleep quality and happiness.

Viral Contagion: Most studies show the cold does not directly weaken the immune system; rather, the prevalence of people getting sick in colder months has more to do with how viruses are transmitted. It is not entirely clear whether this is an example of correlation or causation, but researchers have found the influenza virus (responsible for causing the flu) is transmitted more frequently in cold, dry environments than in warm, humid ones.

3 Possible Contributing Factors:

  • Mucus membranes in the nose get dried out in cold weather. When the membranes become dried out, their protective effects can be hindered and viruses responsible for the cold and flu can enter the body more easily.
  • The virus itself is more stable in cold, dry climates. In warmer months, the protective “shell” of the virus is weaker and less able to survive.
  • Aerosolized droplets of virus remain airborne for longer periods. Inhalation of virus containing airborne droplets (sneezes, coughs) is more likely to occur in regions of low humidity.

Muscle/Joins Stiffness:  Our bodies, which are about 70% water, can become more sensitive in colder weather. As temperatures drop, our bodies can lose elasticity, and it becomes harder to stretch (like when a rubber band is placed in a fridge). Colder temperatures can also cause painful changes in joint fluid thickness. Some studies have shown a strong relationship between cold, damp days and arthritic flare-ups. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin K and vitamin C have been shown to help with achy joints. (Be careful taking vitamin K if you take Warfarin medication. Check with your doctor first).

Exercise-Induced Asthma:  People with exercise-induced asthma have airways that are more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. This condition usually occurs when there is increased ventilation of dry, cool air, which causes the lungs to lose heat and/or moisture and causes the airways to narrow during exercise. Symptoms include shortness breath, tightness in the chest, coughing or wheezing and decreased performance. Symptoms usually begin a few minutes into exercising and peak after about 10 minutes.

How to prevent exercise-induced asthma:  Warming up for 10 minutes can help prevent the onset of symptoms. If it’s cold, cover your mouth and nose to warm the air you breathe. Use an inhaler as preventive therapy 15 minutes before exercise.

Heart Complications: Some studies suggest that winter weather may increase a person’s risk of heart attack because cold temperatures cause arteries to tighten, which restricts blood flow and reduces the heart’s oxygen supply. This is why people with coronary heart disease often experience chest pain or discomfort during colder weather. Also, the change in amount of daylight hours can cause hormonal imbalance, which can lower the threshold for cardiovascular event.

High Blood Pressure and Cold Weather: Blood pressure is generally higher in the winter and lower in the summer because low temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow. In order for enough blood to be forced through the narrowed arteries and veins, higher blood pressure is needed.

Unique Injury Hazards: Cold weather creates unique injury hazards, including frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is when a portion of the skin or bodily tissue freezes from being exposed to the cold. Hypothermia can occur when the body temperature drops below 95oF. Under this condition, the body cannot generate enough heat to keep itself warm and the body becomes unable to regulate temperature. If hypothermia is not treated quickly, it can be fatal.

Weakened Hair, Nails, and Skin:

  • Split Ends: Cold temperatures can warp  hair cuticles and make hair scales weak. The point at which the scales shrink becomes a spot where split ends can form.
  • Weak Nails: Nails grow faster in warm weather than in cold weather because blood circulation slows down in cold weather. If nails are exposed to the cold for too long, the keratin used by your body to help nails grow is used instead to keep the rest of your body warm. The result is weak and brittle nails.
  • Red Skin: If temperatures fall below 10oC, blood vessels near the skin’s surface alternate between dilating and constricting. This happens because your body is trying to not lose too much heat, while simultaneously trying to supply the skin with enough blood for oxygen and nutrients. This phenomenon explains the red cheeks and nose that are characteristic of frosty weather.

For more information go to:

Your Parish Nurse, Kara