Hot Weather to Cold: 6 Ways to Prevent Illnesses from Ruining Your Travel

Ready to travel now that borders are opening again? Follow these travel health tips to navigate changes from hot weather to cooler temperatures and vice versa.

Woman wearing a yellow winter coat and white winter hat enjoys snow with a mountain in the background in a cold-weather country

It has been over three years since the COVID-19 global pandemic restricted travel. Now that borders are reopened, you can continue to tick off countries on your bucket list. Planning to escape the hot weather in Malaysia? Keep in mind that sudden or extreme hot to cold weather changes (and vice versa) can make you ill and ruin your travel.

Let’s go over smart and responsible ways to maintain your health while you begin travelling the world again, crossing time zones and embracing different weather conditions. 

How Your Body Reacts in Extreme Cold and Hot Weather

A woman and her son wearing face masks, waiting in the airport lounge
Sudden or extreme temperature and weather changes during travel can compromise your immune system.

When exposed to a much colder or hotter temperature than usual, the body’s immune system will need to work harder to maintain equilibrium. The much drier air in a cold place, for example, can dry up your mucus membranes, making the lining more susceptible to viruses and allowing them to latch on more easily. In colder places, people also tend to huddle in indoor spaces, you would be exposed to a higher concentration of germs than usual.

Meanwhile, going from cold to hot weather can have its setbacks too. Even though most Malaysians are used to hot weather, the sudden change in temperature when we go to an even hotter place, or return to Malaysia, can cause some heat-related discomforts. This includes prickly heat, and even illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

How Weather Changes Affect People with Chronic Illnesses

Temperature extremes can worsen chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease (stroke, aneurysms) and diabetes-related conditions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Increased rate of heart attacks

Findings presented by the American College of Cardiology suggest sudden and extreme outdoor temperature fluctuations affect the rate of heart attacks. “While the body has effective systems for responding to changes in temperature, it might be that more rapid and extreme fluctuations create more stress on those systems. It could contribute to health problems,” says Hedvig Andersson, MD, a cardiology researcher at the University of Michigan. However, he notes that the underlying mechanism for this association remains unknown.

Results of the same study showed the risk of a heart attack increased by about 5% for every five-degree Celsius jump in temperature. Swings of more than 25 degrees Celsius were associated with a greater increase in heart attack rates compared to a smaller increase of 10 to 25 degrees Celsius. 

Increase in blood pressure

Exposure to extreme cold can elevate your blood pressure. According to research published by the American Heart Association Journal, the cold activates your body’s sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, increases the activity of the renin–angiotensin system. This is a hormone system that regulates your blood pressure, fluid and electrolyte balance, and how blood vessels alter blood pressure.

When experiencing very cold temperatures, this system works to suppress certain enzymes in your body and decreases nitrate oxide production. This contributes to the development of cold-induced hypertension, alterations in skin constriction and contraction of blood vessels. As a result, there is in a marked spike in pressure to your heart and more sweating, leading to salt loss. It also increases the load of sodium on your kidneys, contributing to the increase in blood pressure.

Increase in stroke risk

German researchers studying stroke and rapid weather changes found that rapid decreases in temperature and quick changes in humidity and atmospheric pressure increases stroke risk under temperate climate conditions. Those with a high risk of cardiovascular conditions also seem to be at greater risk of stroke under extreme temperature changes.

Increase in mortality of diabetes patients

Increase in mortality of diabetes patients
If you have diabetes, you’ll be more prone to dehydration and heart issues if you travel to places with extremely hot temperatures.

Research published in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives discovered that people living with diabetes were more prone to dehydration and cardiovascular issues during extreme hot weather. It states that heat stress may worsen various health issues, including diabetes and ultimately lead to increased mortality.

Extreme Weather Changes and Traditional Chinese Medicine

“In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), illnesses due to extreme temperature transitions happen when Lung qi and stomach qi are unable to adapt to the sudden change. This leads to respiratory diseases such as colds, pneumonia, rhinitis, and asthma,” TCM physician Luke Yau Wai explains.

“Cold pathogens enter the Spleen and stomach, hindering their qi mechanisms, causing digestive issues such as abdominal distension and poor appetite. These pathogens can also cause stagnation in the joints, muscles, and tendons, leading to the blockage of meridians. This manifests as joint and muscle pain.” 

“When the body is not protected from the cold, cold qi invades and causes Qi Stagnation. It’s when qi and blood flow are not smooth. This hinders blood flow and can cause cardiovascular and cerebrovascular issues. It leads to more serious conditions such as coronary heart disease and cerebral infarction,” he further warns.

How to Stay Healthy When Travelling Across Climates

Now that you know why you can fall ill while travelling between different climates and temperatures, here are several useful tips to help ensure you remain healthy throughout your travels:

You can still travel to countries with varying climates. Just ensure you take precautions especially if you have a chronic illness.

1. Strengthen Your Defences  

The best thing you can do is to prevent illness. Leave enough time to prepare your travel documents and packing to avoid unnecessary extra stress that can lower your immunity. Make sure to have enough sleep, hydration, and nutrition prior to your travels.

“In TCM, it is believed that diseases caused by temperature difference can be prevented by strengthening the Lungs’ defence. Specifically, TCM believes that the Lung is the canopy’ to promulgate the defence qi, which protects the internal organs from the invasion of external pathogens,” Physician Wai shares.

Maintain your health and immunity through carefully prescribed TCM herbs. American ginseng (hua qi can, 花旗参) helps improve immunity against respiratory infections, and pearl powder (zhen zhu fen, 珍珠粉)has great antioxidant activity to bolster your defences and help cool overheated body systems when travelling to hot weather.

As always, practise proper preventive measures from catching pathogens by wearing a mask, social distancing, and practising proper handwashing. 

2. Prepare Suitable Clothing  

To keep your body temperature within a safe range, it’s important to have suitable clothing for the weather. For cold climates, have layers: an inner shirt or dress with pants or stockings, and outerwear (coat, scarves, gloves, and hat) made of warm wind-blocking and heat-insulating material such as wool. You can remove or add layers to help regulate your body’s temperature, depending the weather and climate of the area or room.

Going to very hot places can also interfere with temperature regulation when our sweat doesn’t evaporate quickly. On the same token, put on clothing that you can take off in layers to cool your body, made of cotton or quick-drying materials that won’t trap heat.

3. Remember to Hydrate 

Keeping your body hydrated is key when dealing with hot weather. Sometimes in the rush of catching our next flight, we may forget to drink enough water. Bring an empty water bottle you can fill once you have gone through the immigration and security check. Places with low temperature may lead you to think you’re not thirsty, but this can be very misleading. You can still get dehydrated in cold weather. Similarly, if you’re visiting a place with a hot and dry climate, this can cause rapid dehydration. 

4. Understand the Signs of Extreme Temperature-Related Illnesses 

It is essential to listen to your body for signs that you should act promptly. Shivering is one of the first signs that your body is in immediate need of warmth. Wear additional layers of clothing and seek warm shelter away from the cold. When visiting a much hotter place or returning to a hot and humid place like Malaysia, the sudden heat change can overwhelm your system. You might feel dizzy and faint and it could cause a migraine. Be sure to stay hydrated and keep cool in light clothing.

Speak to your doctor or TCM physician prior to travelling for advice on what to do should your body show signs of aggravated chronic conditions due to temperature changes.

5. Bring a Travel First Aid Kit  

A businessman packing his suitcase with ties, shirts, and dress pants
Apart from your clothes and gear, remember to pack a first aid kit and health supplements to keep you well.

Sometimes even with the best planning, we may still fall ill. At that point, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, be prepared by bringing some medicines with you to help with the symptoms, such as fever-reducing painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen or cold and cough medicines. Also, prepare medications to calm an upset stomach, such as for food poisoning.

You may even want to talk to your TCM physician and have some TCM herbs, such as a Si Shen soup (四神汤, four herbs soup) pack to help strengthen the Spleen and other organ systems to help you bounce back. Cordyceps mushrooms are known to be effective against viral infections. Studies have also shown that Bu Qi Jian Zhong pills (补气健中丸) can help with digestive issues. 

6. Keep Moving 

Don’t forget to exercise or keep active with walking when on holiday, even if it’s at a hotel gym. While being on vacation is about resting, sightseeing and trying out the cuisine in other countries, ensure you remain active physically. This will keep your qi flowing optimally and your immune system strong and in tiptop condition, even when you indulge during your holiday. 

Travelling is a great way to live a balanced and happy life, but it can also be quite taxing on the body when you move from hot weather to below-zero temperature and vice versa. Being as prepared as possible will ensure you can fully enjoy your trip, coming home refreshed and rejuvenated. So, are you ready for your next trip?

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2021. Cold Weather and Travel. [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  2. Fit For Travel – National Health Services (NHS). Heat and Humidity.  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Can Weather Changes Make You Sick?  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  4. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. How to Stay Healthy While Traveling.  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  5. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2017. Efficacy and safety of Jianzhong decoction in treating peptic ulcers: a meta-analysis of 58 randomised controlled trials with 5192 patients.  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  6. International Journal of Microbiology. 2015. Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life.  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  7. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. 2018. Efficacy of protein rich pearl powder on antioxidant status in a randomized placebo-controlled trial.  [Accessed 27 March 2022]. 

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