From Connie Rudy, MSN, APRN, advanced practice provider at OHC

December 20, 2023

Cold weather can be uncomfortable, but for cancer patients undergoing treatment, the drop in temperature can present different challenges. Learn about the risks they face and helpful tips to stay safe during this season.

Cold Sensitivity & Hypothermia

Side effects of treatment such as dehydration, fatigue, and anemia can make you more sensitive to the cold and susceptible to hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition in which your body loses heat faster than it can produce.  Some kinds of chemotherapy can cause sensitivity to cold temperatures.

Tip: Dressing in layers, wearing warm clothing, and keeping the home environment comfortably heated can help manage this sensitivity.

Be aware sometimes chemotherapy can make you less sensitive to the cold. A condition called peripheral neuropathy decreases the sensation in your hands and feet. Peripheral neuropathy can make it difficult to feel how cold it is, and it can put you at risk for frostbite, an injury caused by the freezing of the skin and underlying tissue.

Colds and the Flu

Cold and flu viruses are more prevalent during the winter months. Because of large gatherings indoors, germs can spread quickly if you aren’t careful.

Tip: Patients, family members, and primary caregivers should discuss their flu shot and vaccine requirements with their healthcare provider. Be sure to wear a mask in crowded public places and remember frequent handwashing is a key defense in your daily routine, wash for 20 seconds with soap and warm water.

Hydration

Indoor heating systems can contribute to dry air, which may lead to dehydration. Stay well-hydrated, as proper hydration is essential for overall health and can help manage the side effects of treatment.

Tip: Most experts recommend 8-10 eight-ounce glasses of water each day.  Water is best but if you need more flavor, try using flavoring products.  You can find these in any grocery retailer.  Sports drinks with electrolytes, milk, tea, or decaf coffee are also good options.  Be sure to watch for caffeine additives in any drink as caffeine can cause dehydration.

Winter Blues

The winter months can bring on the “winter blues” often referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a common type of depression striking winter.  Attributed to a lack of sunlight and reduced activity, this may impact your mood and mental health. Cancer patients may already be dealing with emotional challenges related to their diagnosis and overall physical limitations.

Tip: Consider activities that boost your mood, such as calling a friend on zoom, relaxing with your favorite book, taking a 15-minute walk in the sunlight, staying safely socially connected, and engaging in other activities that bring joy.  Maintaining your support network of friends and family is especially important to boost your mood and they can provide emotional support.

Exercise

Staying physically active is important for cancer patients, but the winter weather may limit outdoor exercise options.

Tip: Consider indoor activities, such as walking in malls prior to stores opening, practicing yoga with online videos, or using modified home exercise options, such as using canned foods as weights.

Travel Considerations

Winter weather conditions can pose challenges for travel.  Plan for any medical appointments, allowing extra time for road conditions.

Tip: Make sure to keep an extra set of gloves and a blanket in your car in case you get stranded.

The Winter Itch

Winter brings dry air which can cause an annual season of itching for healthy people and cancer patients.  As the humidity drops, you may experience dry, itchy, or even cracked skin.  These conditions can be even more common for those on chemotherapy.

Tip: Stay out of the cold temperatures as much as possible.  Drink plenty of fluids, use gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers such as CeraVe, Aquaphor, or Aveeno, and avoid harsh detergents.  Use a home or small room humidifier all winter long. 

If you need support for transportation, emotional support, or have other concerns, please speak with your OHC team member, or visit our resource page.  To learn more about OHC, call 888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.

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