Dry Eyes, Dry Skin, Dry Noses: Fight Winter Dry-Out With These Simple Home Remedies
My wife came to me the other night with a wad of bloody toilet paper shoved against her face. Wide eyed, she exclaimed from behind the reddened compress, "I just got a bloody nose for no reason!" But as a doctor, I knew the reason well. In fact, when the windows close and the furnaces kick on during the cold winter months, I deal with the ramifications of this same reason on a daily basis. During these months, in warm homes, the air becomes very dry and this dryness creates a whole host of problems with our bodies.
Let's discuss these problems and some simple ways to prevent them from becoming an issue.
Winter Dry-Out Solutions
Most our home and work heating systems involve a furnace creating heat which is brought throughout the structure via air movement (forced air) or radiation (water or steam radiator coils). With freezing temperatures outside, moisture gets bound and removed from the air. Further, air does not circulate from the outside environment into living space. This creates for a sharp decline in humidity indoors and this dryness can creates a variety of problems:
- Cause: The membranes of our eyes have a tendency to be quite sensitive to drops in humidity. Symptoms include irritation and a gritty sensation.
- Solution: Hydrate eyes and protect them from irritations with lubricant drops and artificial tears.
- Cause: One function of our nasal passages is to moisten air as it enters our body so that our sinuses and respiratory tree of the lungs do not become dried out. To accomplish this, a thin layer of tissue overlies a network of blood vessels that deliver moisture to the surface. Problems are often brought on during sleep when dry air moves back and forth. Through this process, nasal passages and the deep mucous membranes become easily dried out and this thin layer of tissue can crack and open up the delicate blood vessels. The result is a bloody nose and while the bloody nose heals, repeated drying can only repeat the process.
- Solution: Apply petroleum jelly on the middle septum of the nose. This will cover and enhance this thin layer of tissue, protecting it from the dryness.
- Cause: Dry, itchy skin, known as eczema is very common in the winter months moisture is wicked from our skin. This can occur through wetting of the skin as with washing or sweating (In fact, eczema is common in the creases of the body such as the elbows and backs of the knees where sweating occurs more readily.) or with excessive drying due to a lack of humidity in the air.
- Solution: Prevent eczema by trapping moisture in the skin and protecting it from the dehydrating indoor air with a good moisturizer. For optimal effectiveness, apply after washing when the skin is most hydrated. Already got it? Eczema is best treated with a steroid cream. (For more information on eczema, see my past blog, "Do I Have Eczema?")
- Cause: "Sawing logs," moving air back and forth during sleep across our mucous membranes can create some significant dryness at night. Repeatedly waking up with "cotton mouth" can make for poor sleep. This poor sleep can lead to fatigue, weakened immune system and other related problems.
- Solution: Hydrate well with water before bed and consider a humidifier.
Humidifiers – Pros and Cons
Humidifiers in the home can definitely dampen the effects of dry air. Many new furnaces have humidifier attachments. Small plug-in units are available for single rooms and are quite inexpensive and are nice to put in bedrooms for use during sleep. If you struggle with allergies however, be cautious. Humidifiers often harbor mold and can bring congestion and illness. For this reason, when recommending a humidifier, I also recommend it be used with distilled water and cleaned frequently.
A Benefit to Dry Air?
While mostly, dry air creates problems, one benefit does actually exist! Dry air is less conducive for bacteria and viruses to thrive outside of a body and this means transmission of illness is more difficult. Some types of lung infections heal more readily in dry air climates. It is for this reason that tuberculosis patients in the past often moved to Arizona for convalescence. All things considered, however, this small benefit does not carry much weight among the problems caused by the dry air.
Keep Hydrated This Winter!
As a doctor practicing in the northern reaches of the US, I often wish I could write a prescription for a tropical climate during the cold winter months. Trapped indoors for much of these months, we are at the mercy of heated indoor air. This dry air can wreak havoc on our bodies, but simple measures can lend help until spring arrives once. Stay hydrated!