5 Winter Weather Risks to Avoid

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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 isn’t surprising that one’s 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 body’s 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 –umbles: 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 person’s 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 skin’s 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

    • MISSFOSTER11
      20
      I teach at a preschool and we teach our children to sneeze and cough into their sleeves or shoulders. This prevents (or lessens) the spread of germs in our classrooms. I am also teaching my children at home to sneeze and cough into their sleeves and shoulders. - 1/3/2009   4:59:22 PM
    • 19
      Ugh I would rather use a Kleenex that sneeze into my shirt! And forget the flu shots! - 1/3/2009   3:38:20 PM
    • 18
      I lOVE SparkPeople. I have been using it for over a year, but I wanted you to know this: I ordered a calendar at full price in Dec--it finally came Jan 3--and the postage(shpg/Hdlg) was $10.54. The calendar was $11.00. This is ridiculous! Then I get info that the calendars are 1/2 price. I am a bit enraged. - 1/3/2009   2:15:05 PM
    • 17
      My activities don't change that much as I live in Florida and swim in an indoor pool. After reading about falls and snow shoveling and frostbite, I am feeling pretty fortunate! I am going to start singing while I wash my hands though! - 1/3/2009   2:06:50 PM
    • 16
      good to see they are advising to cough in shirt or sleeve. When you cough in hand it comes in contact with other people and you spread the germs. - 1/3/2009   1:58:01 PM
    • 15
      My now 8 year old was playing out in the snow all day with her freinds and i was so scared for her that she may have gotten frost bite on her feet
      they were so red and cold .. really have to watch out for the young ones.. - 1/3/2009   1:42:16 PM
    • 14
      What winter time activities do you enjoy?
      Well, living in east coast Georgia, we don't get the good stuff to play in that others get in the winter. Just cold/humid/rainy weather! But as a kid my favorite winter activity when we lived in Canada was sliding down the hills on our coasters!
      Do you limit your time outside when you participate in these activities?
      You know how kids are! You can never get them to come indoors! I'd be out until my hands could no longer hold the ties!
      Have you ever suffered or known anyone to have suffered the side effects of cold weather exposure?
      While in Canada I was taking horse riding lessons. I was set to join a trail ride already in progress (guess I was late that day) and the horse that I'd saddled up decided it would be a great idea to hold her air. So here I was, 10 years old, out on a trail trying to catch up, and that horse let out her air. I was UNDERNEATH her belly looking between her gallopping front hooves --- in the winter --- with snowbanks as deep as her shoulder! Somehow I got her to stop, got the saddle off and walked her back to the stable. By the time I got back my hands were so frost bitten that I couldn't let go of the reins. My toes, feet, ankles and calves had no feeling. They thought I'd loose the toes on my right foot, it was so bad! Well, good news is that I still DO have all my toes, but it was a lesson WELL learned! - 1/3/2009   12:55:04 PM
    • 13
      Walking is my #1 Exercise. When it's below 32 i won't even walk my dog. I'm way to sensitive to the cold and get to shivering badly. It's the heat strokes I suffer that really get to me. But not in this cold weather... - 1/3/2009   12:06:44 PM
    • 12
      I have already experienced the fall section of this blog. It happened in November and I'm still suffering from it. So I'm really aware of where I walk and what kind of shoes I wear.
      Thanks for the rest of the information-good stuff to be aware of. - 1/3/2009   9:37:19 AM
    • 11
      I've recently observed that daycares are teaching the little ones to sneeze and cough into their shirts. Love it! - 1/3/2009   9:34:20 AM
    • 10
      Good blog, to remind us and to take caution when needed. Thanks! - 1/3/2009   9:06:24 AM
    • 9
      Walking is my number one exercise, for both me and my dog. I have found a great product for walking when it's snowy and icy. They are called Yak-Trax and they look like coiled springs that attach to the soles of your boots or shoes with stretchy rubber bindings. They have made all the difference in my ability to walk when it is snowy and/or icy. I love them! I think you can find them at sporting good type stores or on the internet. - 1/3/2009   8:30:37 AM
    • 8
      Today I'm taking stock of our cross-country boot collection. Do we need new bindings, new boots, etc.? Time to pass on the outgrown kids boots to the grandchildren! And MAYBE get some new equipment ourselves..... I got my skiis in 1976! But I love wooden skiis, so maybe not! - 1/3/2009   7:56:19 AM
    • 7
      Have had a cold weather injury, so I avoid the cold as much as possible! - 1/3/2009   7:46:20 AM
    • 6
      i exercise indoors to stay warmer and to keep from falling and slipping on ice or snow i have a hard time walking on ice and snow i play it safe rather not take a chance on going out when i can do exercise inside and be safe from falls on ice or snow - 1/3/2009   7:43:31 AM
    • 5
      My husband and I want to start snow shoeing this winter... the snowshoes were a gift to eachother last Christmas, but we are in desperate need of new boots and, trust me, I'm doing my research on some of the warmest/most comfortable snowshoeing boots... also, I would like to get into snowboarding this year too (as I've had my equipment for over 4 years and have never used it)... In good time. However, as a Vermonter (for the past 9 years), I've come to hate the snow... I have made a pact to myself that I will make the best of what's around and enjoy some of the activities it has to offer. This winter is a terrible winter for it all though as it was 5 degrees yesterday morning! Thank you for the tips on staying healthy... even shoveling the walk way is a brutal feat this season! Stay warm!!! - 1/3/2009   7:39:36 AM
    • 4
      I dress appropriately for the weather and I'm not even cold when out for 15km runs in -20C weather. - 1/3/2009   7:33:21 AM
    • 3
      Thanks for the reminder. - 1/3/2009   7:23:14 AM
    • MOMOF6BOYS
      2
      Great reminder...I live in the northeast and was just thinking about this the other day for those in areas not used to the snow and cold that they are getting now. I often wondered how joggers in my area were able to job last week here in 5 degree weather, not counting windchill. Precaution must be how! - 1/3/2009   6:42:10 AM
    • THENEWJOSIE
      1
      Very imformative .. thank you .. loved the hint of singing happy birthday !!! - 1/3/2009   6:10:12 AM

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