Cold Weather Precautions for People with Cancer
Think this winter has been tough? It’s been even more brutal for those coping with cancer. People in cancer treatment face special sensitivities and challenges when the temperatures drop.
Risks of Cold Weather
For cancer patients, extremely cold weather and slippery streets are more than a hazard; they’re a health risk.
Hypothermia is a condition where your body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce heat, causing your temperature to become dangerously low. Side effects of treatment, such as dehydration, fatigue and anemia, can make you more susceptible to hypothermia, as can certain chemotherapy medications.
Treatment can also cause peripheral neuropathy, decreasing sensation in your hands and feet and making you less sensitive to the cold. Because you’re less aware of low temperatures, you’re at higher risk of frostbite, a serious injury where the skin and underlying tissue can freeze within minutes. What’s more, the pain that accompanies neuropathy may be intensified when it’s cold.
Because neuropathy causes numbness in your appendages, you’re more likely to take a tumble on the snow and ice. You may be at higher risk of fracture due to treatments that affect bone density. Be especially careful if you have thrombocytopenia, a condition associated with cancers of the blood that causes low platelet counts. Platelets help blood clot; a low count can lead to bruising or serious bleeding when injuries happen.
Tips to Stay Safe
Follow these tips to protect your health and conserve your energy:
Stay inside as much as possible when temperatures are near or below freezing, or when cool temperatures are accompanied by high winds or rain.
If you have to go outside, bundle up in layers. Wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth before you head out to avoid any breathing problems. Wear a hat that covers your ears, especially if cancer treatment has caused you to lose your hair. Put on heavy gloves or mittens to protect your fingers. Wear thick socks and boots with good treads.
Make sure walkways are cleared of snow and ice. Ask for help shoveling snow and de-icing your driveway.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids at regular intervals.
Protect your skin from the effects of cold weather. Cancer treatments can make your skin dry, itchy and cracked, especially in the winter when the humidity level drops. Use moisturizers and lip balm frequently and avoid long, hot baths and showers. Consider using a humidifier.
Winter can’t last forever, even if it sometimes seems that way. Celebrate each sunny day and count the days till spring!