Posted on December 04, 2016

As Qatar transitions from the hot summer months to the cooler season, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is advising residents to safeguard themselves against common illnesses that usually occur during the winter months.

HMC’s Senior Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Saad Al Nuaimi (pictured), said common illnesses are on the rise during the cooler months. These include the flu, colds, norovirus, cold sores, sore throats, painful joints, asthma and heart attacks. “As the weather changes in Qatar and across the GCC region, there will be a noticeable change in the spectrum of illnesses that people are exposed to. These illnesses are more common in winter and might affect a large percentage of the population, especially schoolchildren,” Dr. Al Nuaimi noted.

According to Dr. Al Nuaimi, flu outbreaks are most concerning for vulnerable populations, especially those aged 65 and above, and those with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease. “The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine provides good protection against the flu and lasts for one year. However, those with existing health conditions should see their doctors for advice about the flu vaccination,” he said. He explained that heart attacks are more common in winter. “There may be an increase in heart attacks because cold snaps increase blood pressure and put more strain on the heart. Your heart has to work harder to maintain body heat when it's cold. It is highly recommended to stay warm in your home, or make sure to wrap up warm when you go out,” Dr. Al Nuaimi advised.

Dr. Al Nuaimi said another unpleasant common winter illness is norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug. “Norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places where you have large gatherings of people, such as shopping malls, hotels and schools. Though the illness is unpleasant, its symptoms are usually over within a couple of days,” he said. He recommends people with norovirus drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Those with asthma are reminded of the importance of taking their medications as prescribed and keeping their inhalers close by. “Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter. If you have asthma and you smoke, stopping smoking can significantly reduce how severe and frequent your symptoms are,” said Dr. Al Nuaimi. He added that regular moderate exercise, such as fast walking or cycling, could help keep asthma symptoms under control.

“Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful in winter, though it's not clear why this is the case. Only joint symptoms such as pain and stiffness are affected by the weather. There's no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage,” he said, adding that mild exercise such as swimming to improve stiffness of the joints and prevent further joint damage is encouraged. Dr. Al Nuaimi explained that sore throats are also common in winter due to viral infections. “One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle warm salty water. It won't heal the infection, but it will soothe the sore throat because of the anti-inflammatory properties in the warm salty water,” he stressed. 

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