As caregivers and people with pain make the move from winter into spring, health concerns can also be in transition.
WINTER CAN BRING A SLOWING DOWN for many people with pain. We spend a lot of time indoors and become less active, and we are in darkness for longer hours. In some, this can lead to depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A lot of us tend to think, “as soon as spring comes I’ll be better”—but sometimes we forget to prepare for the new season before it arrives.
As we know, seasonal changes are marked by changes in weather, our natural surroundings and hours of daylight. As we spring into warmer weather, seeds take root, our trees’ leaves grow back and it is often wetter outside. Nature and humans reemerge from the darkest season of the year, but sometimes it’s not as simple as April showers and May flowers. It’s easy to overlook the fact that spring can bring new challenges for people with chronic pain. Caregiving with seasonal changes brings its own set of challenges.
As a caregiver to my wife, who lives with multiple chronic pain conditions, I offer six tips for Spring:
- Pre-treat allergies. For many people, sneezing, sniffles and stuffy heads arrive as plants and trees start to bloom, producing pollen. As allergies cause an overreaction from the body’s immune system, inflammation increases. When inflammation increases, pain increases. My wife and I prepare for her spring allergy flare-ups by having her start taking allergy medications a few weeks before her symptoms typically appear. At this throughout the house.
- Stay hydrated. Allergies (see tip 1) cause a significant increase in inflammation and histamine production. The primary job of this system is osmoregulation: regulating the available water in the body, which is a life-giving process our bodies developed for survival. While antihistamine medications can reduce allergy symptoms, sometimes they can also cause dry skin, a parched mouth, and dehydration-related increases in fatigue and pain. This chain reaction can affect other body functions, including suppression of antibody production, making the body ill-equipped to fight infections.If you haven’t been paying attention to hydration, it may take a few months of water management to catch your body up so it can function properly. This is a great area of focus for the caregiver and patient. Drink water instead of other fluids, especially caffeinated drinks, which can be dehydrating. Measure water intake; often, people feel they are drinking a lot and are surprised to discover how little they actually consume. Add an extra glass or two of water each day to gain back what has been lost, and practice drinking water consistently and often throughout the day, not all at once. When you overdo the water, it’s like pouring water on concrete—it will run off. My wife and I also drink filtered (reverse osmosis) water. If you can get filtered water that is ionized, it is far more hydrating than regular water. However, the cost of ionized water can be prohibitive.
- Create a spring-season care bag for your car. Consider exchanging winter items for a towel, lighter-weight blanket, allergy medication, bug spray, umbrella, sunscreen, sandals and sunglasses. After traveling to grassy or wooded areas, remember to check for ticks.
- Invest in a barometer. Barometric pressure changes can increase pain levels and migraine occurrences. Monitor barometric pressure changes so you know why your pain levels have increased. This knowledge can be helpful in providing might be on its way, and when it may subside. We use a barometer in our home and on a cell phone while traveling. The app we use is from AR Labs, and it is called Accurate Barometer Free.
- Get active. During winter, it is not unusual for our bodies to become deconditioned. Muscles need to be moved to stay pliable and healthy. Knowing that the pain is worse for my wife during the winter months, we both target spring as a time to start moving slowly again, increasing gradually. When your core is weak, you develop additional aches and pains, so it’s important to work muscles in the lower back, hips and abdominal area. Identify simple stretching and core exercises online, or chat with a physical therapist. Always discuss changes to your routine with your doctor.
- Limit pain-flare triggers. In general, spring is a slightly healthier time for most people. Limiting known triggers for pain flares can help reduce pain. For example, chronic pain patients should:
- Avoid stress and maintain positive mental health.
- Regulate body temperature. Some patients are heat sensitive, and some are cold sensitive—prepare accordingly for your disease.
- Do a “spring cleaning” of your treatment plan with your treatment team.
- Improve sleeping habits.
- Avoid exposure to others who are ill.
- Wash regularly and maintain good oral hygiene habits.
- If you smoke, stop smoking.
Caregiving with seasonal changes doesn’t have to be so difficult. These six tips can help you “spring into spring” informed and feeling your best.