Handling the Hazards of Winter

The beautiful snowfalls, holiday cheer and bracing outdoor activities of winter can conceal the fact that the season brings a host of health hazards. Taking the proper precautions can help you stay healthy when the temperatures plummet.

Here are the top five hazards and the best ways to avoid them:

  1. Slips and Falls − Sidewalks and driveways coated with snow – and often concealing a layer of ice underneath − are a main cause of winter ER visits. To prevent slips and falls, make sure outdoor surfaces are cleared of snow and ice, wear shoes or boots that provide good traction and stable footing, and walk carefully. Seniors shouldn’t be afraid to ask a neighbor for help in getting to the store or to doctor’s appointments.
  2. Winter Sports Injuries − It’s invigorating to brave the cold for some fast-paced skiing, snowboarding, ice skating or sledding, but these fun activities cause their share of broken bones, damaged joints and head and neck trauma. In addition to using proper technique, an ounce of prevention works wonders − warm up properly, wear protective gear, make sure equipment fits well and bundle up to prevent frostbite.

  3. Shoveling-Induced Heart Attacks – You might think you’re in good enough shape to shovel snow off the sidewalk, but remember that heaving heavy, wet snow can cause excessive strain on the heart, especially for people who aren’t physically active, smokers or those with heart disease or other health risks. Before shoveling, dress appropriately for the cold and warm up with some light stretching. When you dig in, stay warm and hydrated, take frequent breaks and shovel light loads of snow instead of heavy piles. Most important, don’t ignore heart attack symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath − if you experience any of those, call 911 immediately.

  4. Exposure to the Cold − For most people who spend time outdoors in winter, the chances of hypothermia – frostbite − are small, but being out in the cold for a long period of time can put you at risk. Reduced blood circulation from frostbite can cause damage to the hands and feet, and in extreme cases, limb amputation and heart and respiratory failure. To guard against hypothermia, wear layers of clothing − a dry-wicking layer closest to your skin and layers of natural fibers such as cotton or wool on top. Remember your hat, gloves and scarf, and wear water-resistant or insulated shoes or boots for the best foot protection.

  5. Influenza − We all hope we don’t get the flu during the winter, but it’s best to take preventive action instead of wishing for good fortune. Getting a flu shot and good hand washing habits are important for keeping the virus at bay, but if you happen to get the flu, get as much rest as possible and don’t rush back to your normal routine − you’ll recover faster and you’re less likely to pass the virus on to others. A fever higher than 102 degrees, severe fatigue, dehydration and shortness of breath are signs that you should visit the emergency room for treatment.

The Emergency Department at Saint Francis Healthcare gives patients the urgent, compassionate care they need. Since no two emergencies are alike, our ED team is prepared to quickly deploy the hospital’s board-certified physicians and nurses from many specialties.

To make an appointment or for more information, call Saint Francis Healthcare at 302.421.4221.

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