Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Safety

Monika Pis, PhD, CPNP

Winter is here, so is the snow, ice and frigid temperatures, and while winter activities may seem mundane, they can be dangerous. Winter wonderland offers plenty opportunities for various outdoor activities than can be fun, but may present all of us with safety challenges. 

Accidents are the most obvious safety issue of winter outdoor activities. However, let’s not forget frostbite, hypothermia, and heart attack. I always tell my patients that prevention is the best medicine. In agreement with this principle, I have outlined important safety measures below that you should take this winter to keep yourself and your family safe.

Before You Head Outside
- Dress in light layers, paying special attention to your nose, ears, hands, and feet.
- Wear a hat, as the most heat escapes our bodies through the head!
- Wear gloves and thick/warm socks.
- Cover lips/cheeks with a thin layer of Vaseline or Eucerin to prevent excessive skip drying and chapping.
- Check out these safety tips for sledding: Winter Sledding Safety Tips
- Check out these safety tips on ice safety: Danger Thin Ice

Getting Ready To Shovel
- Snow shoveling increases heart rate and blood pressure, so if you have a heart condition or are out of shape, do not shovel unless your health care provider says that you can.

- If you are over 40 years old, or physically inactive, check with your health care provider before trying to shovel your driveway.

- Snow shoveling is aerobic activity, so warm up before you grab the shovel.

- Pace yourself! Take frequent breaks and drink fluid to prevent dehydration.

- If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of heart attack, stop shoveling and immediately seek emergency care!

- Pushing snow in front of you is easier on your back than lifting and throwing it.

- If you have to lift, use proper body mechanics: squat, bend knees, and lift with your back straight. Scoop some snow, and walk to where you want to dispose of it. Throwing snow with a shovel, especially if you twist your body, puts too much stress on your back.

- Before you operate a snow blower, read the instructions. The most important thing to remember: Never stick you fingers in the snow blower to remove impacted snow! Use a stick instead.

When On The Road 
Have these emergency items in the car with you at all times in winter:
- Cell phone
- Flashlight
- Jumper cables
- Snow scraper/brush
- Small shovel
- Blankets
- Flare
- Sand or cat litter for traction

For long car trips, pack water, energy bars, food, extra blankets, and necessary medications.

When you stay outside on cold winter days, come inside every half hour to warm up. Every couple of hours drink a cup of hot cocoa or broth. Do not drink caffeine. Warming up will prevent hypothermia.

What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a term to describe low body temperature that results from extended exposure to cold temperatures. Each year over 700 people die from hypothermia, so it’s important to be aware of it and know how to prevent it. About half of deaths due to hypothermia occur among people younger than 65 years of age. However, anybody is at risk in wintertime, so take steps to prevent it!

How to prevent hypothermia?
- Dress in light layers.
- Wear gloves, hat, thick/warm socks, and water proof shoes.
- Go indoors every half hour to warm up.
- Every couple of hours, have hot cocoa or broth.
- If you are cold, stay indoors, and do not venture out again until you warm up adequately.

What is frostbite?
Frostbite results from exposure to freezing temperatures. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the affected area, and it may settle in as little as 20 minutes! Frostbite can lead to permanent damage of the affected area, and if severe, may lead to amputation. 

Signs and symptoms of frostbite: numbness, waxy white or grayish-yellow skin. If you see these signs, seek medical care right away. If you cannot see a health care provider immediately and have no signs of hypothermia, get into a warm room right away, do not walk on frostbitten toes as it may increase damage, immerse the affected area in warm water, do not rub it, do not use a heating pad. If hypothermia settles in, seek immediate medical attention!

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