How to

2 February 2017

How Central Heating Can Affect Your Health

It’s said that the recommended comfortable room temperature is from 18C-21C, and according to a study by the DECC at the end of 2013, the majority of UK households set their thermostats to 20C. Sounds good right? You’d think that ‘recommended comfortable’ means healthy, however central heating, whether set at the recommended temperature or not, can be the cause of various health problems in the winter months.

Firstly, there’s the common cold which everyone seems to get at some point in the colder months. From slight sniffles and watery eyes to the full-blown blocked nose and stuffed up sinuses, they’re unpleasant and sometimes very drawn- out. Colds can be caused by a number of factors, such as allergies, catching one from someone else, or being exposed to dehydrated air.

Using central heating dries out the air in your home and your body responds to this. This can cause the process of vasomotor rhinitis, which sounds awfully complicated, but put simply; as the temperature either changes drastically (e.g. coming into a heated home from the cold outdoors), or becomes dried out caused by heating, the blood vessels in the nose swell, creating discomfort, resulting in sneezing and the nose becoming stuffy and blocked.

A way to lessen the chance of developing a cold caused by central heating is to use humidifiers in your home, to hydrate the dried air. Or, if you’re into your home decor, real houseplants can help, as the water leaving the leaves can moisturise the air.

Central heating can also trigger or worsen skin conditions such as Eczema. As an eczema sufferer myself, I find the winter months more difficult to control and look after my skin. The drastic change in temperature from coming in from the cold outside doesn’t sit well with the skin. Margaret Cox, CEO of the National Eczema Society notes “As the temperature drops, so typically does the humidity and obviously for those with eczema our skin is already lacking in natural moisturising factors so you've got a double whammy there.”

To try and keep temperature change gradual, it’s recommended that eczema sufferers wear layers of breathable material which can be removed or added with ease.

The drying out of the skin simply by being in a heated home is inevitable to occur, and therefore cause irritation for those with eczema. More frequent moisturising is recommended, as well as sticking to comfortable cotton fabrics, and avoiding synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon.

In the bitter cold of winter your hands can get numbingly cold. I, and many others have been guilty of using radiators as instant hand or feet warmers, despite warnings of how bad it is for you. The temptation is sometimes too much when you can’t feel you fingers or toes. But the warnings are right; this instant and drastic temperature change can cause problems to your health.  Putting your frozen hands on, or propping your feet up on the radiator can cause the blood vessels to spasm. This may cause Raynaud’s Syndrome, currently affecting 20% of the UK population.  The drastic temperature change on skin contact can also cause chilblains, painful itchy skin sores, linked to Raynaud’s.  To warm up hands and feet in the winter layer up on socks and put gloves on instead of direct skin-contact with hot radiators.

The debate to avoid all of these problems would to just not use central heating at all. ‘Put another jumper on, it’s not cold!’ A good idea to save money I suppose, but is keeping your coat on, or wearing lots of layers inside good for you? Does it lower the benefit of your coat when you step outside? Have a read of this post from last month for more on the pros and cons of the ever-controversial indoor-coat-wearing.

So, yes, it’s cold outside so of course a majority of UK homes will have the thermostat set to avoid discomfort and to keep warm inside. Despite the health issues, there are ways to reduce the risks. Keep healthy and warm this winter, both in and outdoors!

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.