3 Common Winter Problems and Their Remedies

The thought of experiencing winter for the first time is exciting for many immigrants like me.  But winter problems such as dry skin, respiratory discomforts, and static shocks take the joy out of the experience.  Fortunately, there are tried and tested remedies to help us maximize the joy out of winter.

3 Common Winter Problems

Dry Skin, Lips, and Hair

Have you seen people’s gorgeous winter photos?  Well, who hasn’t?  Let me tell you that not everybody looks like a beautiful model during winter.  At the worst, I feel like a tiny lion. (Definitely not a cute lion!)

The drop in temperature during the colder season results in a drop in humidity.  The dry air causes winter problems like dry skin, lips, and hair.  For some people, this may even lead to eczema and dandruff.

As a true blue Asian, I have oily skin.  So, the drying of my skin, lips, and hair during my first winter was new and uncomfortable.  My cheeks turned red, painful, and flaky from windburn.  My skin and scalp felt tight and itchy.  Even my eyes felt dry, itchy, and scratchy.

Winter in Toronto
Winter in Toronto
Itchy Throat, Dry Nasal Passages, and Respiratory Discomforts

Breathing in dry air causes the mucous membranes to dry up.  This results in an itchy throat, dry nasal passages, and respiratory discomforts.  Because of these, some people experience nosebleeds. Others suffer from serious respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, whooping coughs.

I rarely get sick.  But during winter, I would suddenly feel like I swallowed a cactus.  This gets awkward when I am on a quiet bus or in a meeting.  It gets annoying when I wake up from a deep slumber due to a scratchy throat.

Snow in Ontario
Ontario Covered in Snow
Static Shock

The static shock is my biggest winter pet peeve.  I get zapped all the time.  I have also given friends, officemates, and someone’s dog annoying jolts complete with zapping sounds. 

But what is a static shock? Watch this explanation from Newsy.

They say that static electricity is not exactly dangerous.  However, in my experience, it can be scary or potentially hazardous.

One cold evening, I took off my winter throw blanket and slid off my micro-fiber couch to turn the light switch on.  Instantaneously, I felt a jolt and saw an orange ball between the gaps of the switch. I got scared!

One winter morning, I walked on the office hallway carpet to get to the lunchroom.  As I opened the stainless-steel fridge, I felt a static shock.  I pulled my hand away and smacked my own face.  I know it sounds like a silly cartoon clip. But I assure you that it happened in real life. Imagine if I was in a different setting and came in contact with a hot or sharp object.  Or, if I hit a colleague who was passing by behind me.  I was lucky that nobody else was around.  The bonus was that I was suddenly wide awake.    

Winter in Niagara Falls
Winter in Niagara Falls

Life Hacks to Prevent These Winter Problems

Environment
  • Increase indoor humidity to a comfortable 30 – 50% level. Note that at higher levels, problems such as the presence of molds, fungi, and dust mites can develop.
  • Use a humidifier.  Keep the humidifier clean so that it doesn’t release dust and microbes into the air.
  • Increase humidity without a humidifier.
    • Place bowls of water in the room.  The water will eventually evaporate into the dry air.
    • Hang your damp clothes in a drying rack.  This has the added benefit of lowering your electricity bills.
Anti-static Tool
Winter Anti-static Tool
Habits
  • Modify your habits to prevent the loss of natural oils.
    • Take short and warm (not hot) showers.
    • Shampoo less often to avoid stripping your hair of natural oils.  Consider using a dry shampoo between washes.  I know this can be a bit of a change for people like me who came from a hot and humid country.  We are used to washing our hair daily or twice a day, after all.  But the air in Canada is clean and you don’t sweat as much, so that should be fine.
    • Dry hair before going out.  Wet hair can freeze then break.
    • Keep hydrated.  I make sure to bring a (reusable) bottle of water when I go out.
    • Suck on a cough drop or lozenge.  I do this when I start to feel a tickle down my throat.
  • Release static electricity as often as possible.
    • Some internet articles mention touching metal objects regularly to prevent the static from building up. 
    • Another life hack offered in cyberspace is to discharge the static by touching the metal object with a key first.  Instead of a key, I use the anti-static keychains shown above.  These tools are amazing! They even light up as they release the static. 
Snowy Day in Surrey, British Columbia
Snowy Winter Day in Surrey, British Columbia
Personal Care Products
  • Find personal care products that suit you, your environment, and the season.
    • Use mild products to prevent the loss of natural oils.
    • Switch to a different set of personal care products during the colder seasons. 
      • For example, I use a thicker facial moisturizer with sunscreen when the temperature and humidity drop.
      • I also switch to thicker body lotions with special ingredients because regular lotions do not work for me at this time of the year.  After a lot of experiments, I found out that Lubriderm, Aveeno, and Eucerin work well for me.
    • Do not skip the hair conditioner.
    • Use lip balm or petroleum jelly to protect against chapped lips. Remember that not all lip care products are automatically good for you.  I used a popular lip balm once.  To my horror, it dried out my lips even more.  Another brand left a white film on my lips.  So, find one that suits you.
  • Gently apply a small amount of petroleum jelly into each nostril with a cotton swab to keep nasal passages moist. This would help prevent nosebleeds and other discomforts associated with dry nasal passages.

These tips apply to both men and women. I got used to seeing some men put on lip balm in the office.

Clothing and Accessories
  • Wear the right clothes, shoes, and accessories. 
    • Bundle up.  Wear a toque, gloves, and warm socks.  Remember to wear a scarf.
    • Wear leather-soled shoes to prevent static shocks.  The problem is that leather is not waterproof and leather-soled shoes are slippery.  This would work if you change from your outdoor shoes to indoor leather-soled shoes.
    • Internet articles promote wearing 100% cotton instead of wool and synthetic fabrics to get rid of the zaps.  This is easier said than done because cotton does not have wicking ability. Moisture trapped by the cotton fabric will eventually make you feel cold. So, I wear my cozy sweaters when the temperature drops. But I make sure to use my anti-static keys before touching things or people.
Bundled Up to Enjoy the Winter
Bundled Up to Enjoy the Winter

This post is not meant to replace medical advice. But, I hope this helps you beat winter problems like dry skin, respiratory discomforts, and static shocks.  Enjoy the beautiful winter!

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