Health issues you need to watch for in winter

Winter is here and with it comes an increased risk of getting sick. Here are some key health conditions linked to cold weather and how to avoid them.

Winter brings more than falling temperatures, shorter days, more rain and higher heating bills – many health conditions flourish in colder weather.

From colds and flu, depression and cardiovascular diseases, this time of year can bring all kinds of unwanted health surprises.

Why is winter the prime time for illness?

Viruses survive longer and spread more easily in colder weather and lower temperatures can also weaken our immune system.

Spending more time indoors, close to other people, also spreads germs more easily.

Cold air with less humidity can trigger asthma and over-heated homes can aggravate skin conditions.

Health conditions that get worse in winter


Cold weather provides ideal conditions for respiratory viruses to spread.

While flu numbers dropped during the pandemic because of mask wearing, hand sanitising and lockdowns, cases are surging again.

Health authorities are urging Australians to get the flu vaccine as soon as possible to reduce the number of cases and their severity.

Avoiding people who are sick, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and regular handwashing also help reduce the spread of flu.


This winter, health experts are concerned about flu and Covid.

“For flu and Covid-19, there is increased transmission and susceptibility to infection and more serious infection with cold weather,” Dr Charlotte Hespe from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners says.

Vaccination is the best defence against Covid.

Bronchitis and pneumonia

With more cases of cold and flu in winter, bronchitis or pneumonia also become more widespread.

“Stay at home, stay warm and use medicines to open your airways,” says Dr Hespe.

In some cases, bronchitis becomes pneumonia with fever, rapid breathing and appetite loss.

“Pneumonia is serious and you need to see your GP,” Dr Hespe says.

Skin conditions

Cold, dry weather can aggravate skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Winter dries out skin and takes away natural moisture and this is bad news for irritating, itchy eczema.

Dry skin and less sunlight can also make psoriasis more of a problem.

Shorter warm showers, keeping skin moist with cream or ointment, avoiding scented products on skin and using a humidifier indoors may help.

Heart failure

During winter, more Australians are admitted to hospital with heart failure, according to Torrens University research.

“There is an alarming spike in the number of people admitted to hospital for heart failure during the colder months,” lead researcher Professor Simon Stewart said in a report.

Symptoms include breathlessness, fatigue, sudden weight increase, loss of appetite, nausea, a persistent cough or wheezing and swollen ankles, legs or stomach.

“It is important to reduce exposure to the cold and monitor people with heart conditions,” Prof Stewart said.


Winter is also a challenging time for anyone with asthma.

Cold, dry air is more likely to dry out and inflame airways and make it harder to breathe. Colds and flu are more widespread too and these can have a negative effect on asthma symptoms.

If you have asthma make sure your Asthma Action Plan is up-to-date and uses preventer and reliever medications daily.


It’s not so much the cold but changes in atmospheric pressure in winter that can make arthritis more painful.

A change in pressure causes tissues in the body to stretch, placing pressure on nerves and triggering pain.

The key is to wear layers to stay warm and to keep moving to avoid joints becoming stiff and even more painful.


During winter, some people find their mental health takes a downturn, which is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“SAD is a mood disorder with a seasonal pattern,” Beyond Blue lead clinical advisor Dr Grant Blashki says.

“We think it’s to do with the part of the brain that runs our body clock and manages our normal sleep-wake cycle not getting enough light.

Symptoms include a lack of energy, difficulty waking up and feeling more irritable.

See your doctor for advice if you’re concerned.

Written by Sarah Marinos.