Let It Snow? Impact of Cold Weather on Autoimmune Disease

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I live in Southeastern Oklahoma where we traditionally have mild winters; however, February went out with a bang dropping four inches of sleet/snow last week and another inch this week which has tripped off my Autoimmune Disease family: Fibromyalgia, Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis, Undifferentiated Lumbar Spondylarthropathy, and Sjogren’s Syndrome. Bleh! I can usually handle one flare up of one of these nasty disease sisters with some grace but when multiples flare it leaves me limping along realizing just how I am at the mercy of Mother Nature.

I know some of you may be reading this with little sympathy, especially if you live in regions where the snow is deeper than the front door to your house. My apologies. I simply could not survive that climate with this disease pattern. 🙂 In fact, I’ve had a running inside joke with my autoimmune disease friends that the USA needs to make one of the islands of Hawaii a colony for AI patients. Wouldn’t that be great? A constant 70-80 degree temperature range? Ahhh, my bones would love it!

I’m not use to the impact of cold weather. I usually suffer the most in our 100 degree humid summers, but these late winter storms have caused me to have a lot of break through pain that I’m having to treat with extra medications. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Fellow suffers have known for a long time that shifting weather fronts and abrupt temperature fluctuations can bring on disease flares. So, short of moving to Hawaii, how can we tolerate snow days?

  • Limit Exposure specifically for Fibromyalgia patients, being out in snow or sleet irritates the nerves in the surface layers of exposed skin in your hands and face which will set off a flare. It’s really important if you have to be out in these weather conditions wear layers and to cover as much skin as possible and limit your exposure. Exposure to the cold sets off the deep joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis and spondylarthropathy.
  • Use Eye Wear – Sjogren’s Syndrome patients need to have good eye protection because the cold wind will further dry out the eyes and the glare from snow or ice on the ground can cause damage to already sensitive eyes.
  • Don’t Rely on Your Body  – Science has proven with those who suffer from autoimmune disorders of these types can’t just simply “warm up” relying on their own body mechanisms. These diseases are caused by a haywire autoimmune system which in turn affects the ability of the autonomic nervous system to regulate body temperature effectively. You are not likely to “warm up” on your own. It’s quite common to feel like you are freezing even when indoors.
    • Dress in extra layers even when indoors
    • Use heating pads/electric blankets, hot water bottles
    • Eat or drink something hot to warm yourself from the inside out
    • Take a warm bath/shower to aid warming up your core body temperature

Although I love watching snow fall and I think the trees are beautiful decked in white, I no longer have the tolerance for extreme winter weather as I once did. The days of making snow men, collecting a bowl of fresh fallen snow for snow ice cream, or walking to the mailbox on blustery days are over unless I want to pay for shaking hands with Mother Nature in the form of pain, profound fatigue, bed rest, and extra medications. I’ll be content in watching from my window with a steaming cup of hot cocoa in hand!

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