5 myths about winter weather and your health

Old wives' tales about how the body reacts to winter are more popular than you might think. Most of those tales are learned in childhood. However, just because a belief has a long history doesn't mean it's worth believing.

Many myths are out there about how cold weather affects your health. So we set out to find out the truth.

Myth No. 1: Allergies only happen in winter

"Allergies are around all year round. People assume they're in the springtime because of pollen. But dust, mites, animal dander is around 24/7 365 days a year," Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist, said. "Plus, the weather is drier the air is drier, so it actually makes you have more contact with the allergens."

"People confuse the actual sniffles they have with the allergies that were persistent before," he added. "Plus, the studies show that people stop taking their allergy medication in the winter, so the symptoms come back without a problem."

Dr. Sonpal said that allergy sufferers should consider using their medication throughout the year if they need it. If you're not sure, talk to your physician.

Myth No. 2: You don't need sunscreen in the winter

"People assume that because in the winter, the sun is quote unquote further away, the rays don't get here as easily," Dr. Sonpal said. "It's very well known that if you participate in winter sports, that the sun, when it amplifies off of the ground or off of the snow that is surrounding, can actually cause sunburns. That's why a lot of winter athletes will wear sunscreen."

These myths often appear to be based on things that seem logically correct or on observations that appear to be cause and effect, like this next myth.

Myth No. 3: You gain weight in the winter because your body stores more fat

"We found that it's actually a social change. We have holidays, Thanksgiving. And that time of the year we consume more calories and don't realize it," Dr. Sonpal said. "Plus, we don't walk as much and we exercise less because it's so cold outside."

Your body has the same metabolic rate as long as you're eating the same foods and burning the same number of calories.

Myth No. 4: Drinking alcohol will keep you warm

"Alcohol and spicy food get the same sort of thinking—if it burns on the way in, it must be keeping me warm on the inside," Dr. Sonpal said. "What alcohol does is it dilates your blood vessels. When your blood vessels dilate, they give off more heat. So, in actuality, that temporary warmth you feel in your chest from the hot toddy will later cause you to lose more heat anyway."

Myth No. 5: You lose more heat through your head, so wear a hat

As a kid, mom always said, "Put a hat on your head because you lose all your heat through your head."

"You only lose about 9% through your head," Dr. Sonpal said. "Your body loses heat from everywhere. So cover up head to toe."


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