5 Winter Weather Risks to Avoid

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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 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 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 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?