We all know people who blame the weather for their achy joints, killer
headaches, and many other health woes. But proving these claims has been a bit
In recent years, however, scientists have become increasingly interested in
attempting to understand just how various weather extremes and changing
patterns affect our health. Many experts say that weather does account for some
adverse health symptoms.
WebMD talked to experts to learn just what is known about weather's role on
our health and what we can do to minimize its mighty influence.
The image of someone sneezing uncontrollably during springtime, when lots of
pollen is floating around in the air, is a familiar one. And for people who
have allergies to pollen, an uptick in symptoms during the spring -- including
sneezing, stuffiness, and even difficulty breathing -- is a very real problem
that can pose serious risks. Several studies show a surge in emergency room
visits for children and adults during seasons when pollen counts rise. For
those folks allergic to pollen from flowers, trees, and grasses, antihistamines
often quell the symptoms that would otherwise make spring a miserable
But plenty of people attribute their allergy-like symptoms to pollen when
the weather -- not allergens per se -- may be to blame. Unlike allergic
rhinitis, non-allergic rhinitis can be brought on by sudden changes in
temperature and humidity. People with nonallergic rhinitis would test negative
for any specific allergies.
The reason for the confusion between allergic and nonallergic rhinitis is
simple. They both tend to occur at the same time of year and produce similar
symptoms: swollen nasal passages, sneezing, and congestion.
Though the symptoms may be the same, the treatment is not.
"People with nonallergic rhinitis are not going to respond to
antihistamines," says Jonathan Bernstein, MD, a professor of clinical medicine
at the University of Cincinnati. "People buy this stuff and don't understand
why it's not working."
For his patients with nonallergic rhinitis, Bernstein generally recommends
nasal irrigation (a saline solution sprayed in the nose), a nasal steroid to
shrink swollen nasal passages, or decongestants.
But before using any treatment, Bernstein strongly urges people suffering
from allergy-like symptoms to get a diagnosis from their doctor rather than
self-diagnosing and medicating. "Is it due to viruses, humidity, cold
temperatures? We try to evaluate the condition as a whole," Bernstein tells
Cold Weather, Thunderstorms Can Trigger Asthma Attacks
For people with asthma, a variety of triggers can result in inflamed
airways, provoking an asthma attack. It turns out weather is one of them.
With exercise-induced asthma, cold weather can signal trouble. "When
breathing in fast, the air they exchange doesn't have a chance to warm up,"
says David Hagaman, MD, medical director at the Vanderbilt Asthma, Sinus and
Allergy Program. As a result, the increased cooling of the airway triggers the
airway to react by swelling.
For the many asthma patients who list pollen as a primary trigger,
thunderstorms can be a real problem. A recent study in the journal
Allergy described how wind in thunderstorms carries pollen grains at
ground level that get into the lower part of the airway, sending high numbers
of asthma patients to hospitals for the treatment of asthma attacks.