Winter and chronic illness conditions often feel like the perfect storm for an increase in feeling very unwell. Sometimes that storm is literal, with thunderstorms, snow showers and freezing temperatures all working together to make my body rather unhappy with increased symptoms. The cold plays a part in exacerbating many conditions, from fibromyalgia to asthma. I wonder though whether many people realise how difficult winter can be for many of us.
This winter has brought some new symptoms for me to deal with, which has definitely not been fun. And 2020, well what can I say, that definitely hasn't made things easier for any of us, and particularly not when you live with chronic illness. These are some of the conditions I live with, and that worsen in the winter months, as well as some winter health tips that I hope are helpful.
I am not a medical professional and this does not constitute medical advice in any way. This post is for informational use only and my story. Please consult a doctor for all medical assistance.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition that causes pain all over the body (NHS). Many people find that the aching and pain they experience in their joints and muscles is worse during the colder months. As the Arthritis Foundation notes, pain can fluctuate during the day, based on cold and damp weather amongst other issues such as activity levels and sleep patterns.
Alongside medication, if your doctor suggests this, there are a few things that I find helpful in the winter to help manage pain:
Exercise is the top of my list as I find it very helpful. Nope, I don't mean anything strenuous, and often it is gentle stretching or yoga to help tight muscles. Walking is also great, but can exacerbate symptoms for me at times when it is particularly cold.
As I am not outdoors too much this winter, I have been using my pedal exerciser a lot at home. Simply pedal away while watching some YouTube and your legs are moving and loosening up. I started with three minutes a day a few years ago and have very gradually built up. It is always advised to consult with a doctor or physiotherapist before starting a new exercise programme.
Eating well always help with overall health and I find it very beneficial for feeling as good as I can do with my conditions. If you follow a low histamine diet then I have lots of healthy low histamine recipes to try!
Getting restful sleep is challenging with fibromyalgia, not least of which because chronic pain can make rest really difficult to come by. Yet good sleep is one of the best ways to lower my fatigue and pain levels.
This winter I have been making much more of an effort to practice good sleep hygiene by turning off screens an hour or so before bed, and reading instead. I have not one but two blinds, plus curtains to block out as much light as possible and I try not to eat close to bedtime as that affects me. This post on sleep hygiene by the NHS has other helpful ideas.
I often think of winter as 'Raynaud's season' and my doctor laughed and said how true it was. I've had Raynaud's since I was a kid, first noticing blue fingers at the age of about eight when getting food out of the fridge. It worsened a lot as a teenager and into my twenties. To begin with it was only my fingers that turned purple and white, but then my toes followed suit and I get a super cold nose as well. I'm wondering which bit of my body will be next - ears perhaps?
Keeping warm is the best way I manage Raynaud's symptoms, particularly as I am unable to take any medication for it. Hat, scarf and gloves are mandatory outside in the winter alongside layers of clothes and (fake) fur-lined boots.
Some other things that help:
(Fake) fur-lined slippers at home
Hand warmers for inside your gloves when outdoors (or inside too)
Adding ginger to meals and drinks (evidence is anecdotal as far as I am aware, but I find it helpful)
My new issue for 2020/2021. Urgh. I haven't ever had chilblains before so had no idea what they even looked like. But then a few of my icy cold toes started to hurt, like really hurt. They turned purple, shiny and I got a blister on one of them. Yep, I'm adding chilblains to my winter and chronic illness list it seems . . . Perhaps it was only a matter of time as having Raynaud's puts you at greater risk of having them.
While my doctor indicated that there are medications for more severe cases, we are going with 'lifestyle' measures at the moment. So it's warm wooly socks (sometimes two pairs!), my furry slippers and generally keeping myself warm too. The heating is always on, of course!
Weather changes such as storms can definitely bring on a migraine attack for me, whether it is head pain or extra dizziness from vestibular migraine. It is thought that pressure changes 'trigger chemical and electrical changes in the brain', which irritates nerves leading to head pain (and other symptoms) (NHS). It has felt extra stormy where I live this year and my head pain has fluctuated a little more than is usual for me.
Some ideas that can help:
Talk to your doctor about preventative measures
Your doctor may suggest trying a new preventative medication or Botox, or nerve blocks amongst other options. It is always best to see a specialist neurologist for help with managing migraine.
Blue light blocking glasses
I find these particularly helpful when using screens for work (or watching TV!) as well as in the evening when the room is darker, but lights and lamps are on. That combination tends to make my brain feel as though it is working harder, but my Migraine Shields glasses help calm it down.
Get 20% off Migraine Shields with the code throughthefibro
For that 'hot head' feeling when pain is high. A headache hat is a wearable hat with inserts for the engineered ice. Helps calm the pain down, and a great deal.
Nausea relief bands
If the weather is stormy I tend to get increased dizziness from vestibular migraine. And increased dizziness can often mean increased nausea too, which is one of my most hated symptoms. Feeling sick makes everything feel a bit overwhelming.
When this happens I turn to the Blisslets nausea relief bands which work through acupressure. A really good non-drug form of relief, and they look very cute too!
Blisslets has kindly given me a code to share with you for 15% off. Use the code fibrofog
Stress isn't good for any chronic condition, including migraine. Perhaps it is the colder weather but winter and chronic illness always seems a combination that brings on stress for me. It is one of my biggest triggers and let's face it, the past year has been hard for all of us. Self-care can take many forms and you may wish to try out lots of ideas to find one (or many!) to suit you.
Meditation, yoga, cooking, reading, puzzles, a good at-home spa pamper session, there are so many ideas to try.
MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome)
My MCAS symptoms are affected by both the cold of winter and the heat of summer, so I am definitely a spring and autumn person! I get particularly increased symptoms of flushing and headache when out in the cold, which is very painful. As MCAS can be challenging to manage, it is always best to see a doctor who specialises in the condition and follow their advice on treatment options.
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Please follow the advice of your doctor as to all medical treatments, supplements and dietary choices, as set out in my disclaimer. I am not a medical professional, and this post, as well as all other posts on this blog, are for informational purposes only.