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January 22nd, 2009
10:35 AM ET

Can weather affect our health?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Erin, Liverpool, New York

"It seems that every time I end up experiencing a bad sinus headache, it's a result of the cold weather. Is there any relationship between the weather and our health?"

Answer:

Being outside "in the cold" doesn't give you a cold, but the weather can play a role in your health.

Many studies show headaches can be trigger from high temperatures, humidity and barometric pressure. Even air pressure from outdoor activities - scuba diving or climbing in high altitudes - can trigger sinus headaches.

So, what to do about it, right? We obviously can’t change the weather forecast but you may be able to stay a step ahead of the symptoms. Start keeping track of when your sinus headaches occur and the temperature level outside. For some, the cold weather may trigger it, for others, it may be a hot and humid day. Once you figure it out you’ll be able to modify your daily activities or take medication in advance.

Weather can also have an impact on your heart and lungs. In fact, smog and polluted air can cause inflammation of the lungs. As a result, your blood gets slicker and thicker and may cause a heart attack or stroke.

People who exercise outside have to be particularly careful. Take running for example. Runners take in more than 100 liters of air a minute, compare that with an average of 6 liters a minute for a sedentary person. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles, California, are among the most polluted cities in the U.S. On a quest for the cleanest air? Visit Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Santa Fe, New Mexico. Both these cities ranked the best in American Lung Associations 2008 “State of the Air” report. Click here  to see where your city ranks.

The people most at risk for weather-related health problems are the elderly, children, and anyone with a history of heart disease or asthma. Bottom line: If weather is causing you a headache or something more serious, it’s important to identify what’s triggering your symptoms and talk to your doctor about it.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.