Under the Weather: Weather and Illness

January 29, 2016
Sick Frog

It’s the ultimate irony. I love to write about weather but today it is hard because I’m under the weather.

A storm front is passing through and my head is doing an excellent imitation of an exploding nuclear warhead. During the few pathetic moments that I can think, I wonder why. Why do weather fronts make some people feel so bad?

Sometimes the changing air pressure and temperatures from passing weather fronts make people feel awful. Why?

People have known about the weather connection since Ancient Greece when Hippocrates, the “Father of Western Medicine” wrote about it. However the actual phrase “under the weather” for being sick didn’t come until seafaring days, when bad weather tossing a ship could really make people seasick. Sick sailors and passengers were sent below the weather deck, the surface deck, so they were “under the weather”.

The term “under the weather” is a seafaring term from when rough weather could leave you feeling seasick. Source: Willem van de Velde II, 1707

According to biometeorology, the science of weather and health, some theories of how winter storms can put you under the weather are…

Approaching storms lower the air pressure. When atmospheric pressure decreases body tissues swell slightly. This can put increased pressure on joints and sinuses.

Low temps can cause blood vessels to narrow, raising blood pressure. Indeed, a study in BMJ reported that, due to higher blood pressure, a high risk of clotting and shoveling snow, the nation has an additional 200 heart attacks for each drop of 1°C (1.8°F)

Low temperatures also causes blood viscosity, or thickness. Your blood pressure gets a double whammy. It also makes it a bit more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugars during cold fronts.

Blood isn’t the only fluid to thicken. Joint fluids thicken increasing that stiff, throbbing feeling.

Many people swear they are more likely to catch cold which leads some doctors to wonder if the immune system is weakened.

Here’s some good news: When you are out in the cold, your body burns calories.

All of these are theories and many scientists claim the medical evidence is still unclear. The weather changes are slight, don’t affect all people and hard to prove. Some dismiss it all as just being in your mind.

So remember – being under the weather is not science.  Try telling that to granny and her aching weather knee. Good luck!

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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