In countries where cold winter months are a given, SCD can be more severe with crises occuring more frequently in patients with the disorder.
It is not uncommon or unusual for a patient whose disease has been well controlled to experience crises after exposure to triggers like extreme cold weather. This situation however, has been difficult for medical practitioners to decipher in terms of impact because hot weather and dehydration are also known triggers of pain crises in sickle cell patients.
My sister for example has been living in the United States for more than 3 years and has had to learn ways to manage her sickle cell in the cold winter months. In Nigeria, the closest we get to cold weather is during the harmattan (dry) season but this is nothing in comparison to the bitter, dry winter that is obtainable here. In anyone, cold weather is associated with pain severity because it causes narrowing of blood vessels in the skin, nose, ears, hand and feet. This narrowing is only therefore greatly exaggerated in people with sickle cell disease.
Drinking a lot of water is not something people would usually do in the cold months and this could lead to adhesion of red blood cells thereby causing crisis. Because magically disappearing during the holiday to a place with warmer temperatures is not an option for many, below are 5 ways you can manage sickle cell in the winter if you have this disorder:
1. Minimize continuous exposure to the cold and windy weather. This means that spending too much time outdoors if you can avoid it is not adviseable so for those of you who enjoy winter sports like skiing, you may want to reconsider how much time you spend on the slopes.
2. Have pain medication on hand and ready to be taken when necessary. Crisis can occur at any moment and you need to have your medication with you at all times.
3. Staying hydrated is always recommended in both the hot and cold seasons for obvious reasons of avoiding dehydration.
4. Dress warmly to guard against the impact of the harsh weather.
5. Use hand sanitizer frequently.
Remember that you can still enjoy winter activities with friends and loved ones but the key is not to go overboard and to do everything in moderation. So next time winter comes round, go ahead and be excited by the onset of the holiday season but be sure to take the necessary precautions to manage your sickle cell disease.