Staying Safe This Winter: Cold Weather Tips For The Family

December 15, 2014

With the official start of winter just around the corner, and the first Hudson Valley snowfall under our belts, it’s the perfect time to review cold-weather safety. Use this refresher on some of the dangers of cold weather to keep you and your loved ones safe as the temperatures drop.

1) Hypothermia: Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening drop in body temperature. Elderly people, individuals with disabilities and children are more susceptible to hypothermia as their bodies are not as efficient at regulating body temperature. Prevent hypothermia by keeping warm and dry with multiple clothing layers and blankets, and by being aware of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, such as shivering, stumbling, confusion, irregular heartbeat and pale or blue skin. Be aware that cooler temperatures that are comfortable for a healthy adult may be dangerous for an elderly or disabled person or a child.

2) Frostbite: Frostbite is the destruction of bodily tissue due to freezing. Frostbite usually affects the areas farthest from the heart (such as fingers and toes) and can result in nerve damage and amputation in severe cases. Pain, blisters, and red, gray, or blue-black skin are all signs of frostbite of varying degrees. The elderly, those with certain medical conditions, and young children are more susceptible to frostbite. Protect against frostbite by keeping skin covered, warm and dry in cold weather.

3) Fall Hazards: Ice and snow on the ground create a dangerous fall hazard for people of all ages and abilities. Stay safe by keeping walkways well-salted and clear of ice and snow. Always wear appropriate footwear. Use handrails when descending/ascending steps and ask for help if you believe an outdoor task is too dangerous for you to complete in slippery conditions (e.g. getting the mail or shoveling.)

4) Shoveling Injuries: Nationwide, over 11,000 men, women and children are hospitalized for shoveling injuries each year. In addition to orthopedic injuries such as neck fracture or back injuries, snow-shoveling/pushing a heavy snow blower is also a major cause of heart attacks. The cold’s boosting effect on blood pressure, paired with the extremely strenuous nature of snow-shoveling and the fact that many shovelers don’t follow a regular exercise routine, make it particularly dangerous. To lower your chances of injury or heart attack while shoveling or snow-blowing, you should:

• Warm up your muscles before starting
• Shovel many light loads instead of one heavy load
• Take frequent breaks
• Drink plenty of water
• Wear appropriate footwear and outerwear to prevent hypothermia or frostbite
• Use proper form when shoveling; Squat to shovel and do not bend or twist your back
• Do not toss snow from your shovel; Walk to the place you would like to pile and dump it
• Stop if you feel chest tightness, a racing heart, or any physical change that makes you nervous; Call 911 if you think you are having a heart attack

Compiled by Helen Hayes Hospital Staff