It may have snuck up upon us, but everything suggests that winter is knocking at our door; rain is almost a daily occurrence, it’s getting darker earlier in the evenings, and social media is starting to throw up ‘countdown to Christmas’ posts. For anyone remotely connected to the world of healthcare, this is also the time of year when much focus is upon the additional pressures that winter brings to services, and how to promote and encourage good health, especially in the potentially more vulnerable members of our community.
So, what can we do as individuals to prepare ourselves for as healthy a winter as possible? Well, a good place to start is by checking if you are eligible for the free flu vaccine. Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system; your nose, throat and lungs. If you are otherwise healthy, it is unpleasant but will generally clear up after approximately a week. However, if you identify with any of the following groups, you can request the flu vaccine from your GP, midwife or participating pharmacist, as you are recognized as potentially being at risk of more serious complications if you contract the flu:
- Aged 65 or over
- Children & adults with an underlying health condition
- Children & adults with a weakened immune system
Having the flu vaccine will significantly reduce your chances of contracting the virus, and if you do still happen to come down with a strain, it is likely to be milder and shorter-lived than without the vaccine.
Keeping warm can be a challenge, particularly for individuals such as those on a low income and the homeless but is important in aiding winter wellness. Very cold weather can increase the risk of certain conditions, especially in the vulnerable, including pneumonia, heart attack and slips, trips and falls. Being forewarned is part of good prevention, so check in with the Met Office weather forecasts to make sure you are prepared for any anticipated bouts of bad weather. Try to keep your home comfortably warm; draw curtains at dusk and keep doors closed to block out draught, get your heating system checked regularly by a qualified professional, check the NHS website for appropriate temperatures for your home and check with your local Citizens Advice Bureau if you are eligible for any financial or practical assistance with heating your home. If you are able, try to have at least one hot meal per day and undertake some light exercise to help with circulation.
Your local community pharmacy can also be a mine of information in helping you get ready for winter. They are well placed to advise on preventative and remedial measures for winter coughs and colds, as well as a plethora of other minor ailments. They are also generally quick and easy to access, and utilising your pharmacist eases the pressure on GP appointments as they are not used unnecessarily.
Other issues such as loneliness, isolation and mental unwellness can also become exacerbated during the winter months, when factors like the weather and hours of natural darkness contribute to making getting out and about even more of a challenge than usual. If you are can, check in on vulnerable relatives and members of the community, such as the elderly, less mobile and those with long term health conditions. Try to ascertain if they are safe and well, if they are keeping warm and if they have sufficient supplies of food and any medication that they need. If you have any concerns, you can contact your local council, NHS 111 and of course the emergency services where appropriate.
Healthwatch Essex can give you information about services in your area which can help to support you with all health, social care and wellbeing matters. There are also Winter Resilience Roadshows taking place in the county which we can give you details of, if you are able to attend, which provide lots of tips, advice and information on staying well throughout the winter months. We can be contacted by phone on 0300 500 1895, text on 07712395398, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get in touch and kick start your healthy winter.
Information & Signposting Lead