The SparkPeople Blog

5 Winter Weather Risks to Avoid

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
1/3/2009 6:00 AM   :  70 comments

Now that winter is officially here, so are the risks of winter injuries. While I live in a climate where snow and ice are rare, many areas of the country are experiencing snow, ice, and cold temperatures like never before.

Below are a few of the most common winter weather injuries that may be avoided if proper caution is taken prior to venturing outside.

Falls
Falls are responsible for many emergency room visits during the winter months. With ice and snow coating many walkways, it isnít surprising that oneís risk for injuries rises with the rate of precipitation. Try keeping all walkways cleared of ice and snow by using rock salt, deicing chemicals, and even sand. Also make sure you keep a close eye on where you are stepping as elevation changes are harder to see when covered with snow or ice.

Overexertion
Overexertion is quite common as people venture out of their homes to clear ice and snow from their walkways. However, it is very important not to overexert yourself on cold days since doing so can lead to greater stress on the heart/cardiovascular system, as a result leading to a greater risk for heart attacks. With cold temperatures the vessels of the cardiovascular system narrow while the blood thickens, therefore raising the risk for a heart attack, especially in those individuals with high blood pressure. Take extreme measures to listen to your body. If you suffer from shortness of breath or experience any chest pain, stop immediately and call 911.

Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a condition where the bodyís temperature drops due to a gradual escape of heat in which the body cannot continue to generate enough heat to keep warm.

Symptoms include:
  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Mental confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • And what the Mayo Clinic states are the Ėumbles: Stumbles, Mumbles, Grumbles, and Fumbles.

  • Because hypothermia does not occur suddenly, but over a slow period of time, many suffering from this condition can be quite unaware that they even have it. For that reason, it can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. Prevention and quick response are crucial.

    So what can you do for someone who may be suffering from hypothermia. According to the Mayo Clinic here are a few ways to help.

  • Seek medical attention ASAP
  • Get the person out of the cold and into a warm environment ASAP
  • Remove all articles of wet clothing since these will only keep the body's temperature low
  • Do NOT rub the person skin to generate heat as this can lead to cardiac arrest
  • Do NOT apply heat directly to the skin of the arms and legs since doing so can cause the cold blood to move to the heart resulting in a fatal consequence
  • Offer warm beverages only if the person is alert and is able to swallow. Alcohol DOES NOT help to increase body temperature, in fact it lowers it.
  • Watch the personís breathing--if the person quits breathing and has no pulse. CPR may need to be initiated.

  • It is crucial that you dress in layers and limit exposure to the elements, especially when weather conditions warrant.

    Flu/Cold Season
    As mentioned in an earlier blog, winter is prime time for colds and the flu. With many of us working in close proximity to one another and with drier and colder environments, it is only a matter of time before the first outbreaks begin.

    Below are measures to prevent colds and the flu.

  • Get a flu shot before an outbreak. It may take a couple of weeks for your body to develop the antibodies it needs to fight the disease.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds throughout the day, especially after sneezing and/or coughing. A trick is to sing Happy Birthday twice before rinsing
  • Cough/sneeze into your shirt
  • Stay home if you are sick, especially if you have a fever


  • Chilblains and Frostbite
    These two conditions can occur when the skin is exposed to the elements resulting in damage to the skin.

    Chilblains is an injury to the skin when exposed to mild/extreme cold temperatures. It does not result in the skin freezing. Instead the exposed skin may develop a red, itchy patch, due to the inflammation of the small blood vessels in the skin.

    Symptoms do not always occur immediately after exposure, but can arise several hours later. The most common area affected is the small toe, but it can occur anywhere on the body.

    Symptoms include:
  • Itchy skin with red patches
  • Blistering of the exposed skin
  • Burning sensation of the skin
  • Skin color variation from dark red to purple along with pain
  • Possible ulcerations of the skin


  • Frostbite, on the other hand, is the result of the skin freezing and most commonly occurs on the hands, feet, nose, and ears. Because blood flow to the skin is diminished and the body cannot heat the skinís surface, this can lead to a literal freezing of the skin. This injury can be superficial in nature or cause permanent damage, therefore requiring medical attention. Many times this condition is accompanied by hypothermia.

    Ways to prevent chilblains and frostbite
  • Limit exposure to the elements
  • Wear protective clothing/gear. Items such as a face mask and heavy mittens in place of gloves allow heat from your hand to keep your fingers warm
  • Keep clothing dry
  • Avoid spilling gas on your hands when refueling your car. Gas evaporates very quickly from the skin's surface, therefore causing a drop in skin temperature leading to a greater susceptibility of frostbite.
  • If you exercise in cold temperatures, make sure you layer your garments and avoid having cotton in direct contact with the skin. Since cotton absorbs sweat, it allows the moisture to remain in constant contact with the skin. This is when wearing a good wicking base layer is essential.


  • While the colder months allow many of us to enjoy the time outside building snowmen, skiing, snowboarding, and such, taking precautions before heading outside will hopefully help you avoid a visit to your local emergency room or doctor.

    What winter time activities do you enjoy? Do you limit your time outside when you participate in these activities? Have you ever suffered or known anyone to have suffered the side effects of cold weather exposure?


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    Comments

    • 70
      great information especially for me up in upstate New York with this freezing rain and snow almost daily. - 1/7/2009   8:19:26 AM
    • BABYDOLL213
      69
      thanks for the info... - 1/6/2009   10:56:51 PM
    • 68
      Great information. This winter we in Europe are experiencing cold as we haven't had in a while. Thanks. - 1/6/2009   5:19:22 PM
    • 67
      Great INFO! - 1/6/2009   8:52:16 AM
    • 66
      This was an absolutely amazing article to me as we have moved to Iowa from California and even though we lived in the foothills of the Sierras, we did not get weather like we get in Northern Iowa and I was not aware of all of these facts. Thank you so much for posting them and I am happy I saw this blog. God was with me tonite, for sure!!! Vicki - 1/6/2009   2:11:20 AM
    • 65
      I responded to this article a few days ago indicating I thought it gross to sneeze into your sleeve or elbow. Now my daughter, a school nurse in the Columbus, OH schools just told me she sent out mega videos to be shown to children teaching them how to do this. She said teaching them to use tissues is out of the question anymore. Guess I'm just an old-fashioned school teacher who bought boxes of tissues for classroom use. - 1/5/2009   9:15:14 PM
    • 64
      Great information! - 1/5/2009   5:49:00 PM
    • 63
      I .ive in FLorida, so I guess I am lucky enough to not have the worries of snow and frostbite. Though it does get cold here, it is only for a few days at a time. I have lived up north in snow before, but being a native of Florida, I always come back home. Snow is fun to visit, but I will not live in cold again. Thanks for sharing :-) - 1/5/2009   1:14:22 PM
    • 62
      I have permanent cold injury in my toes from years of snowshoe-hiking and XC skiing. Now I can no longer hike in the mountains; I have to do activities where there is a warming hut or lodge nearby. Repeated cold injury makes your toes more susceptible the next time, so now my toes start to freeze very quickly. I invest in those chemical toe-warmers-- they work like a charm! - 1/5/2009   12:26:26 PM
    • GDRAKE49
      61
      Sunscreen is an important winter tool. Skin takes a beating not only because of the weather, but also because people think they only need sunscreen during the summer. - 1/5/2009   10:39:36 AM
    • 60
      Some great ideas! Thanks. - 1/5/2009   8:16:32 AM
    • 59
      Glad I live in beautiful PENSACOLA, FLORIDA. - 1/5/2009   12:23:12 AM
    • 58
      I really have to take note of all of this. In NJ, we experience extremes...either extremely cold or extremely hot. I have children who take the bus and are out in the elements during the school day. Great reminder to have them bundle up. - 1/4/2009   10:03:50 PM
    • MRSDWILL
      57
      Always good to have reminders. I am from Wisconsin, this year we broke the record snow fall for December. I think that this might be a year of record breaking. My husband and I are owner operaters..aka truck drivers, we travel north to south every week. I have clothing for all seasons with me. It seems that we hit every weather condition each week. - 1/4/2009   9:49:42 PM
    • PATRICIAG3495
      56
      hi thanks for the reminder i was born in Pa but moved to Calif in 79 and this year we had 4in of snow the week of xmas pretty but coldim in Barstowcould not go out for my nightly walk because to cold but im back at it good luck guys - 1/4/2009   7:37:48 PM
    • 55
      We don't have that much cold weather here in Georgia. And my favorite winter sport is watching figure skating on TV! LOL! - 1/4/2009   6:25:55 PM
    • 54
      I walk for my main exercise and I really like winter. But I don't like the ice that hides under the snow. I have slipped and fallen a few times but so far no injuries. But one of my kids got me Yak Trax for Christmas this year and today I got to really try them out after our layer of ice that we got last night. They work great! You still have to walk with care but I would never have been able to walk that three miles outside today if I didn't have those on. They are pretty easy to slip on and off, which is great since I walk to stores a lot and they shouldn't be worn inside. I would so much more prefer to walk outside in winter than in the hot summer humidity. So I think Yak Trax are my new best friends! - 1/4/2009   6:00:00 PM
    • 53
      Yep, these are good things to always be aware of. Drive carefully too! - 1/4/2009   4:47:22 PM
    • BEHMOM
      52
      Do be careful of ice - I slipped on ice while walking the dog on Dec 16th and broke my wrist. On my dominant hand, too - VERY inconvenient. - 1/4/2009   3:33:52 PM
    • 51
      I live in MN and My husband and I love to past the winter time by ice fishing. I get my cardio by walking out to the spot we are going to fish in deep snow, about a 1/2 mile to a mile, then we set up the house and drill our holes and set the lines and run out of the fish house when a flag goes up on our line and catch the fish. (Northern pike, sunfish, and bass). We fish for about 3 to 4 hours and then walk back to hour truck and go home and clean fish and eat fish and salad for supper. We dress warm in layers and have the fish house heated with a mister heater. It gets so warm in the house you can wear a t-shirt. kind of like a little sauna. Thanks for the tips, and have a fun year. - 1/4/2009   2:30:22 PM
    • 50
      My gf fell a few winters back and seriously damaged her arm. Just seeing the icy sidewalks makes her feel anxious now, so we got her some YakTrax. They are the best thing EVER! And after we started telling people about them we realized that they have strap-on-shoe-contraptions for people who hike a lot, etc. They come with spikes in the bottoms, etc. I think that's awesome. Twenty bucks has saved her so much worry and anxiety, so I'm spreading the word hoping someone else will benefit from them. http://www.yaktrax.com /

      Happy New Year!
      Happy New Year! - 1/4/2009   2:22:41 PM
    • PHYLLISPETERS
      49
      There is a product called EcoTraction that is an environmentally friendly substitute for salt and sand. I believe it is a volcanic material and is actually good for lawns and safe for pets to ingest. Find info at ecotraction.com. - 1/4/2009   1:23:20 PM
    • 48
      I'm with Hippichick. remember that anything you put onto your sidewalk and driveway ends up either in your water supply or returns unfiltered to the nearest river. The poor fish don't need to choke on salt and chemicals. Sand works just as well and doesn't stain your shoes and rust your car. - 1/4/2009   12:54:08 PM
    • 47
      Great information! Thanks! - 1/4/2009   12:45:21 PM
    • 46
      Thanks so much for the information. We don't see that much real cold weather in Texas, but I work in a very crowed office and colds and flu make there rounds all winter. I think we all just re-infect each other. Great tips. - 1/4/2009   10:09:51 AM
    • 45
      I just want to point out that while saftey salt works well at melting ice, it is NOT GOOD - as in VERY BAD - for the environment. Use sand or a mixture of sand and kitty litter. - 1/4/2009   9:54:11 AM
    • 44
      thanks for the info! Go sparkpeople! - 1/4/2009   9:30:19 AM
    • 43
      In Michigan, we find a great way to eliminate the elements issue. Walk the mall. OMG, first time i went, couldnt believe it, there were like 100 people there at 830 in the am. The stores didnt even open until 1030. Apparantly one time around the inside track around the entire perimiter is 1mile. 5x around & you're good to go for the day!! woohoo, just enough time for the stores to open & go shopping. LOVE IT - 1/4/2009   9:24:21 AM
    • 42
      Thankfully I live in South Texas. When it does get cooler here, it doesn't stay that way for very long. Though with the humidity I have learned to use layers to stay warm. I love my Dahn Yoga class regardless of the time of year. - 1/4/2009   9:10:58 AM
    • 41
      PJOY17.......here I come..........lol - 1/4/2009   8:56:50 AM
    • 40
      I am fighting (and not winning) a terrible head cold at the moment.........so COLD weather is not my favorite time of the year.......UGH!! WINTER! I wish I could afford to go south in the winter - 1/4/2009   8:55:36 AM
    • SNOEBUD
      39
      WOW I Don't know how the people in alaska or normally cold areas can do it, I am in vermont and it is 8 degrees f right now I don't go out in weather like this anything below 65 I am freezing - 1/4/2009   8:47:42 AM
    • 38
      Stay warm and safe everyone!
      Come visit South Florida, it is beautiful and very warm here ( the best time of year here ) 68 degrees and sunny at 8am Sunday the 4th of January. - 1/4/2009   8:11:35 AM
    • 37
      Great tips, all, as I contemplate moving back to the midwest from SoCal! - 1/4/2009   8:00:13 AM
    • IMAGIN8
      36
      I just tried a treadmill for the first time today. Ugh!! Now I know why it's called a "dreadmill". Thanks for the tips. I'm going to keep doing my running outside, no matter how cold it gets! - 1/4/2009   7:38:57 AM
    • 35
      sounds chilly..chilly as a chilly bin!!! - 1/4/2009   5:31:09 AM
    • 34
      I live in Interior Alaska where the temperature right now is 49 degrees BELOW zero. When you live in a place with extreme weather you learn to take the proper precautions or you will end up badly hurt or even dead. Bundle up in layers, pay attention to your surroundings and your body. When traveling leave a little earlier, keep stuff in your car where you can get at it easily (not in the trunk) so you are prepared to walk at least 5 miles in any kind of weather in case of a breakdown.

      My Sweetie Man found out that you can be cutting wood outside in the sun, comfortably wearing vest and long sleeves, sit your coffee cup on the bumper of the truck for 5 minutes, go to get a sip and have it be a coffee ice cube! - 1/4/2009   2:36:32 AM
    • 33
      I no longer participate in what would be called winter activities. But I increase the time spent in the physical therapy pool exercising and find myself more eager to do exercises in the house when it's cold outside! However, it should be noted that I was born on Groundhog's Day and live for WARM weather!!! ;)

      And yes, I've known someone affected by hypothermia. A fellow who was a few years younger than me died 10 years ago of hypothermia. He was a biologist on assignment in a remote area of Alaska; his co-workers died with him. My d-in-l lost relatives to hypothermia... in the Bering Sea. When you have only minutes to get out of the water....sometimes people can't reach you in time. Theirs is a harsh way of life. - 1/4/2009   12:48:10 AM
    • SPINNYBOO
      32
      I keep clumping kitty litter in the car in case I am stuck in the snow as it is AMAZING for getting traction...as well, if it is icy when you get home, keeping salt in the car (or even using that kitty litter) to make a path to your door will work well. - 1/4/2009   12:43:25 AM
    • 31
      I always wear layers of clothes in the wintertime - 1/4/2009   12:34:36 AM
    • 30
      I suffer from rhenards disease, due to my thyroid issues. Cold causes my hands & lips if exposed too long to crack & bleed.
      I always prepare by always wearing gloves,hat & lip balm. I often look like a short Michellin man, given all the layers I'm wearing.
      Doesn't always work, but I endure it to be with the Hounds & other outdoor activities- weird, but I 'like' racking leaves & hauling them off. Immediate gratification if the winds not blowing for a couple of days : ) - 1/4/2009   12:12:35 AM
    • SHERI1969
      29
      I've only ever had Frostbite once or twice in my life and that was when I was a kid. The other one...chilblaines I get a lot...even with layers of clothes on and yes thick scarves on my face, ears etc. But they are good reminders for those who dress like it's still summer trying to show off. - 1/3/2009   10:49:52 PM
    • 28
      I usually dress appropriately for the weather, and haven't had much trouble with the issues you mentioned. The worst thing that has happened to me in cold weather is getting my feet wet and having to wait up to an hour to change my socks and shoes. It doesn't happen that often. I usually take a shower or bath and put on a couple of layers of clean, dry socks. I also get chapped hands, and I am trying to remember to put lotion on more often. - 1/3/2009   10:14:38 PM
    • 27
      I really had to giggle when I read this post, as we live in an area of the country that we consistently experience below zero temps. We just returned from my kids' ski race and we all braved wind chills of about -25F, while watching the skiers and yes 3 out of my 4 kids raced, two of them coming in the top ten. I think that when you live in an area like this you understand the risks and prepare for them. I got my cardio and strength in while watching this race, by walking up and down the bleachers to stay warm, and hiking up a hill to warm up in the school, then back down for more races. We dress in layers and know when to head in doors. You also dress appropriately, cover exposed skin, keep gloves on, etc. If you use common sense you stay safe!
      In our area we do not have snow days(we have had a couple of ice days), but the only time our school closes is when the air temp goes below -30...it is an environment that you can live, again common sense is important! So, thanks for this blog, helped me to appreciate our world we live in! - 1/3/2009   10:00:19 PM
    • 26
      I have a pair of YakTrax that I use over the bottom of my shoes or boots when I have to walk where there is ice. I'm still very careful, but it's a little extra insurance that I won't fall. I paid about $17 for mine, but I consider it a good investment; better than paying medical bills for broken bones. - 1/3/2009   9:03:17 PM
    • 25
      Good sensible reminders. I live in Michigan now, and I grew up in NW Ohio. However I lived near Memphis, Tennessee, for 4 years and near Jackson, Mississippi, for 2 years. While down South, I came to the realization that, while I enjoyed the culture and the friendships I made, I really missed the change in the seasons. I get my flu shot every year, and have learned to sneeze into my elbow. And I am more careful about potential slips and falls than I used to be. And for many years I've taken my car to a large open parking lot to practice handling spins and slides when we have our first snowfall. Traction control systems on cars really do make a difference, but intelligent driving makes the most difference! - 1/3/2009   9:02:19 PM
    • 24
      I think we should teach everyone to always have tissues handy and sneeze into them. Do you really think a teacher wants to go to Johnnie to help him and come in contact with a slimy, germy shirt sleeve? - 1/3/2009   8:50:56 PM
    • 23
      I'm outside a lot, because of my job, but I still dislike it. Yesterday morning a woman out jogging in 12 degree weather. I was thinking to myself that it would be a good time for her to invest in a treadmill. - 1/3/2009   8:03:04 PM
    • KUZINKEITH
      22
      THANKS FOR THE REMINDERS --
      I also keep some spare warm clothing in my car trunk. A flat tire on a freezing night is a big enough adventure without frostbite. The other advantage: No excuse if I want to walk after lunch! - 1/3/2009   6:39:04 PM
    • 21
      I like to walk my dogs in nice weather but it is very cold and icy where I live, so I do what I do in nice weather..use the gym and pool :)

      I should add I do like to shovel :) - 1/3/2009   5:47:26 PM

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