Temperamental Temperatures: Weather and Sickle Cell

The weather in the Midwest is just about as unpredictable as sickle cell pain is. It’s March, so it makes sense that it would be a little cold and I prepare accordingly. I have a pretty heavy-duty winter coat, as any sickle cell warrior in the cold should. It’s exactly what I need when it’s cold, but it can be a burden when it’s warm.

Why does the cold make you sick?

I think some people assume being cold can make you sick. Well, it’s not exactly just cold air that hits you, and boom you're sick. It’s more so what going from warm to cold, does to your blood vessels.

Blood vessels are like highways for the blood cells in your body. The thing about having sickle cells is that they are already pretty likely to cause traffic jams – think of them as brand-new drivers with little experience. When cold, your body constricts your blood vessels to hold on to more heat. It’s like covering the highway in snow with low visibility – imagine how much harder it is to drive through that.

It makes sense there would be more traffic jams. Then, when you’re overheating and need to cool down, your body dilates your blood vessels to release some of that steam – like snowplows clearing the roads. This is why heating pads help so much with alleviating sickle cell pain.

Tempermental weather

All this to say when bad things happen when I’m not appropriately dressed for the weather – like this week for instance.

Tuesday morning was pretty cold, and my heavy jacket did the trick. Wednesday was really warm and I felt myself suffocating from the warmth of my coat. I decided to take it off but the weight of my coat on my arms really slowed me down. So of course, I wore a lighter coat Thursday and it rained – it was still pretty warm out, though I didn’t have a hood.

Naively thinking the warm weather would stay, I left my thicker coat at home Friday Morning. Wow, did I regret that! Though I had checked the weather and noticed a bit of a temperature drop, I was vastly unprepared for the harsh winds that made my walk to work even more physically strenuous.

I try to keep both coats in my car for this reason, yet I somehow still never feel prepared enough for the unpredictable weather.

Abrupt changes

To make things worse, my body usually responds pretty poorly to abrupt changes in weather. So of course, I started having sickle cell pain Thursday evening. It was in my legs, the part of my body that was least protected by my shorter, lighter coat.

Sleeping extra bundled up and with my heat pad wrapped around my legs helped me the next morning, but I can already feel the pain returning. I want to believe moving somewhere warm will mean less pain, but I know from other sickle cell warriors that isn’t true. It makes sense that jumping from a hot summer day to air-conditioning or into a cold pool would be just as much of a trigger.

I guess I can’t completely beat the weather.

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