Winter dangers can often come on quickly and unexpectedly with the advent of bad weather and storms. When those snowflakes start to fall, it’s time to take extra precautions to make sure you stay healthy and safe during the season.
Slips, Trips and Falls
Snow, sleet and ice make for icy roads and treacherous sidewalks that can make getting around during the winter both inconvenient and dangerous. Falling on ice can cause serious injuries like lacerations, broken bones and even traumatic brain injuries. To prevent slipping, tripping and falling on the ice, follow these simple steps:
- Wear proper footwear like insulated and water resistant boots with good rubber treads
- Take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you have the time to react more quickly if you start to slip
- Keep your hands free so you can catch yourself if you do start to fall
- Keep rock salt, sand and a shovel available to help keep pathways clear
- Take it slow and leave a little extra time to get where you are going during the winter
Shoveling snow can be an extremely strenuous activity and is especially taxing in colder weather. It’s important to avoid overexerting yourself since cold temperatures put an extra strain on the heart, lungs and body. There is potential for dehydration, back injuries, exhaustion, hypothermia, frostbite and even cardiac arrest. If you can use a snow blower or hire someone to help you clear the snow, that is always a good plan. If not, follow these steps to ensure you don’t injure your back or cause heart problems:
- Take frequent breaks in warm areas
- Warm up before the activity
- Scoop small amounts of snow at a time
- If you can, push the snow instead of lifting it—wet snow is quite heavy
- Proper lifting is crucial to avoiding back injuries. Make sure your back is straight, lift with your legs and don’t turn or twist your body
- If you become short of breath or dizzy, stop and rest
- Use a sturdy and lightweight shovel
Frostbite is the freezing of skin tissue and is the most common cold-weather injury. The loss of feeling and color usually affects areas like the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. In severe cases it can even lead to amputation, and is worst in people with reduced blood circulation and the elderly. Protect yourself with these steps:
- At the first signs of pain and redness, get out of the cold and protect any exposed skin.
- Immerse the affected area in warm (not hot) water and don’t rub it or walk on frostbitten toes.
- Watch out for skin that appears white or yellowish-gray, skin that is unusually firm and waxy, and numbness.
In cold temperatures the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure will eventually use up all your body’s stored energy, resulting in hypothermia. This happens most often at very cold temperatures, but can also happen after someone gets chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water. Signs of hypothermia include sleepiness, weak pulse, shallow breathing and slow or slurred speech. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible. To avoid hypothermia, keep these tips in mind:
- Perform minor exercises to maintain good blood circulation in your body
- Clap your hands and move your arms and legs around occasionally
- Try not to stay in one position for too long
- Stay awake—your body is less vulnerable to cold related health problems when you are awake
- If you’re trapped in your car, use blankets, newspapers, maps or even the car mats for extra insulation
Should you suffer from any of the above conditions, call your doctor or go to an urgent care or hospital emergency department.