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Managing Your Hypothyroidism in Every Season

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on February 16, 2017Written by Stephanie Watson on February 16, 2017
hypothyroidism

A change of seasons can bring warming temperatures, incoming snowstorms, or falling leaves. If you have a thyroid problem, such as hypothyroidism, the seasonal transition can introduce a whole new set of symptoms or even bring some relief from the ones you had. Learning how to manage your hypothyroidism in all types of weather can help you feel better year-round.

Spring

Now that the wintertime holidays are over, bouts of depression and sweet food cravings should let up once the first springtime buds appear. But those early blooms can herald the beginning of spring allergy season. Both hypothyroidism and allergies can cause the same symptoms — a stuffed and runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. If you’re not sure whether pollen or your thyroid gland is to blame for your symptoms, see an allergist for testing.

Summer

During the summer months, you might feel better, getting a reprieve from the cold and mood swings of any rainy spring days. While someone with hyperthyroidism can feel overly warm in summer, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. If you feel overheated, you might be on too high a dose of your thyroid hormone. See your doctor for an adjustment.

Fall

While the weather is still reasonably mild, get outside and exercise. A daily workout can help keep thyroid-related weight gain in check, and improve your mood and sleep.

Before you start any new exercise program, talk to your doctor. An underactive thyroid can slow your heart rate. A gradual transition into exercise is the safest way to get started. For example, you might try walking just a few minutes on the first day, and then slowly increase the time and intensity. Choose an exercise you enjoy — whether it’s yoga, Pilates, swimming, or dancing — so you’ll stick with the program.

Fall is also the ideal time to visit your doctor or pharmacy for your flu shot. Getting vaccinated now will prevent you from getting sick this winter.

If you’ve been fighting fatigue, make some changes to your routine to increase your sleep time.

Set work and social media aside at a reasonable hour each night, so you can get a full seven to nine hours of sleep. Turn off your electronic devices at least an hour before bed. The blue-lit screens can fire up your brain, keeping you awake.

Lower the blinds and keep the thermostat set at a comfortable temperature. Generally, 60 to 67 degrees is ideal, but you might prefer to keep your bedroom warmer if you tend to feel cold.

Try to go to bed at the same time each night, starting with a wind-down ritual like a warm bath, book, or meditation.

Winter

Because hypothyroidism slows your metabolism, it makes you more sensitive to cold temperatures. If you live in a northern climate, the arrival of winter can leave you feeling even more frigid.

As winter approaches, see your primary care doctor or endocrinologist for a test of your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level. Often TSH levels rise in the winter — a sign that your thyroid isn’t keeping up with your body’s hormone needs. Even people who’ve never had a thyroid problem might be diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism (slightly elevated TSH) in the winter. If you’re low on thyroid hormone, increasing your levothyroxine dose can rev up your metabolism and make you feel warmer.

Depression is another common symptom of hypothyroidism. In the winter, shorter days and sparse sunlight can throw your internal clock out of whack and make depression even worse.

This wintertime mood change is called seasonal affective disorder, and you can treat it by getting more exposure to light. Bundle up in the morning and take a walk outside in the sunshine. Or sit next to a special light therapy box every morning. This artificial light acts like natural sunlight, altering brain chemicals in a way that boosts mood.

A slowed metabolism from an underactive thyroid makes you more likely to gain weight, especially when wintertime carb cravings set in. Try to limit comfort foods like holiday cakes and cookies. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit instead. And fill up on healthy food choices, like vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

Hypothyroidism also contributes to dry skin. The winter drop in humidity can make your skin feel parched and itchy. To rehydrate your skin, take shorter showers with warm (not hot) water and gentle soap. As soon as you step out of the shower, pat dry and then apply a layer of rich lotion or cream to hold moisture into your skin.

No matter what the season, stay alert for any changes to your symptoms. If you notice anything different or new, report it to your doctor.

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