As we head into the winter months, the change in temperature and humidity has a significant effect on our overall well-being. Specifically, in the areas of ear, nose, and throat, there are some major consequences that one should be aware of. Colder weather cannot only have effects such as frostbites and chapped lips, as we are familiar with.

The lower humidity in environment can have a significant effect on our entire respiratory system. Previously, many houses had heating systems for the winter that involved a fireplace or other heating involving the direct burning of fuel material. Burning fuel not only releases heat, but it also releases moisture in environment, and therefore this would be the ideal type of heat supplementation for the cold winter months. However, with modern technology, central heating has been the source of heat for most people. This is considered to be dry heat, as no additional moisture is being pumped in the environment. This can leads to dryness of our upper respiratory passages as they try to heat and moisture the air before it reaches our lungs.

Perhaps one of the more common side effects that we see and feel both ears, nose, and throat from the cold dry winter months is nosebleeds. Typically, patients may experience severe dryness in the nasal passages to the point of the membranes being completely chapped. These severely dry membranes are more likely to crack, resulting in nosebleeds. Besides nosebleeds, patients also suffer from dryness affecting the nasal passages and nostrils, leading to local scabs and itching. As for the mouth, many patients suffer from chapped lips. Many people also do not drink adequate amounts of water in the winter since the temperatures are not so high anymore, and they forget to hydrate properly.

There are a few steps that can be taken to replenish moisture during the winter. Obviously, keep hydrating in order to replenish your body fluids. Besides that, perhaps the most important recommendation is to have a humidifier at home. A humidifier will replenish the moisture that is missing in environment in our homes. A cold mist humidifier is the recommended form, as this is less likely to disperse bacteria trapped in the water reservoir. An ideal placement of humidifier is in our bedroom. The bedroom is the place where we usually spend 7-8 hours sleeping, and therefore we are located exclusively in one area of the house. Secondarily, during our sleep we do not hydrate, and typically wake up completely dehydrated. Therefore, the bedroom is the ideal location. If you spend much time at home in other rooms as well, it is not a bad idea to get a second humidifier for the living room areas.

Some people also use nasal moisturizers within the nose. Some of these are basically just saline, and some of them have moisturizers built in. I generally recommend NasoGel® for most of my patients. Some patients also use bacitracin ointment or simply Vaseline.

Using the above measures will hopefully allow you to have a better winter season and fight the constant dryness. Patients suffering from additional symptoms are encouraged to see their ENT specialist as well for specific treatments.

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Posted in: Nose, Sinuses

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