The cold weather can have a serious impact on health especially for vulnerable groups such as families with young children, older people and those living with long-term illnesses.
There are many reasons for the increased risk of ill-health in cold weather. These include:
- poor quality housing and particularly cold homes
- higher frequency of circulating infectious diseases, such as flu and norovirus
- physical hazards such as snow and ice
Being cold isn’t just uncomfortable, it can make health conditions worse and impact on your mental health. Sitting or sleeping in a cold room also increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke and breathing problems.
When a house is damp as well as cold, mould is more likely to occur. This can increase the risk of illness, especially from asthma.
During cold weather, people may also use malfunctioning or inappropriate appliances to heat their homes. This can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Things we can do to stay safe
Don’t let the cold catch you out, check the weather forecast and be ready for cold weather.
To stay safe, warm and well in cold weather you can:
- stock up on tinned and frozen foods, warm clothes and any medication so you don’t have to go out too much when it’s cold or icy.
- have plenty of hot food and warm drinks - food is a vital source of energy and helps to keep your body warm.
- keep moving if you can - try not to sit for more than an hour, get up and walk around, make a hot drink and spread housework throughout the day
- wear a few layers of thin clothing, rather than one thick layer, as this traps heat better - thin layers of clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibres are particularly good for maintaining body heat
- wear shoes with a good grip to prevent slips and falls
Even in cold weather, it's important to remember to keep your home well ventilated. Air flow can help prevent mould and damp. Open some windows for a short period during the day to circulate the air.
Get your heating system checked and make sure your appliances are both safe and in good working condition. If you have an electric blanket, use it as instructed and get it tested every three years.
Do not use a gas cooker or oven to heat your home. It is inefficient and increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you are not on mains gas or electricity, make sure you have a good supply of heating oil, LPG or solid fuel so you do not run out in winter.
Power and utility companies have schemes which make at-risk groups a priority for reconnection following power cuts. Find out if you meet the criteria and if so, sign up.
Looking after vulnerable people in cold weather
We can look out for others by getting in touch with friends, family or neighbours to make sure they are safe, warm and well. Ask about living in a cold home and help vulnerable individuals to access existing resources to keep warm.
Anyone can become unwell when the weather is cold, but certain factors increase someone's risk.
Those who are at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell include people who:
- are older - particularly aged 65 and above
- are younger - particularly aged 5 and under
- have long-term health conditions such as cardiovascular or respiratory disease, or mental health conditions
- are pregnant
- have learning disabilities
- are at risk of falls
- live alone and may be unable to care for themselves
- are housebound or have low mobility
- are living on low incomes
Keeping your home warm
To keep the warmth in your home you can:
- fit draught proofing to seal any gaps around windows and doors - draughts let in too much cold air and let heat escape
- make sure you have loft insulation, and insulation in cavity walls if you have them
- insulate your hot water cylinder and pipes.
- draw your curtains at dusk and tuck them behind radiators to help keep heat inside
- make sure your radiators are not blocked by furniture or curtains
If you can, try to heat the rooms you use to at least 18°C throughout the winter. Don't wait until temperatures plummet to near freezing before you turn your heating on.
If you can’t heat all the rooms you use, heat the living room during the day and your bedroom just before you go to sleep.
Get support and advice if you are struggling with energy bills.