A Doctor's Tips for Staying Safe in the Cold

A Doctor's Tips for Staying Safe in the Cold

There are some brrrrr-illiant things to look forward to in the winter months - snow days, beautiful white-blanketed scenery, making snow angels, and who doesn’t like a good snowball fight? But the beauty of winter and snow can also bring about its share of health and safety hazards. To help you enjoy the beauty of winter, Dr. Mia Finkelston, a doctor on Amwell, offers helpful tips to stay safe and healthy this time of year.

Halt hypothermia in its tracks. Hypothermia is caused by a rapid loss of body heat, typically caused from immersion into cold water or in cool outdoor weather (below 50°F) when wind chill, wet or too little clothing, tiredness, and/or poor nutrition lower the body’s ability to cope with cold. The best way to dress for the cold is in three layers. The first layer you should have on is something that helps wick away moisture. The layer after that should be something that is a good insulator, such as fleece, wool and your outer layer should be something that blocks the wind. For hands and feet, use wool and opt for mittens instead of gloves. Mittens keep your fingers together and help keep them warm.

Anyone on medications, especially those for diabetes or hypertension are most prone to rapid changes in their body and can’t adjust as quickly, so use caution.

Beware of frostbite. Your, nose, ears, cheeks, chin and hands are the most susceptible parts of the body to get frostbite the quickest.  Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold and causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, therefore, it’s really important to cover those places with scarves, gloves and hats.Keep in mind that you can get frostbite pretty quickly - in 15 minutes or less and the elderly and children in your lives are more prone to frostbite.  Get medical care immediately if you or someone you know starts to feel numbness, shiver rapidly, or confusion.

Protect your skin. Cold weather can also lead to dry, cracked skin. Be sure to apply skin creams, stay hydrated and keep your scalp conditioned daily and continue to apply daily sunscreen. The snow reflects the sun and can be a source of sunburn before you know it. Look for facial serums with SPF; they are lighter and can be applied under makeup or your favorite creams.

Be careful getting rid of snow. It’s very important to remember that there is a lot of work involved with shoveling snow, especially when rain and sleet is involved.  If you start to have chest pain or shortness of breath, start feeling nauseous or dizzy, stop what you are doing and call a doctor. Strenuous activity can lead to heart strain that may lead to a heart attack. Sweating from overexertion (shoveling) could also lead to a chill and hypothermia.

If you use a snowblower to get rid of snow, and it clogs, do not do anything before turning it off. More than 5,000 snow-blower related injuries are reported every winter, about 10 percent of those injuries involve amputation of the hand or fingers. Once you shut off the snowblower, disengage the clutch and wait until the blades stop moving before fixing the problem. Never put your hand in the chute or around the blades; instead, use a stick to clear the impacted snow or unclog the blades.

Keep moving. Don't think of cold weather or snow as a reason to skip your daily walk or exercise routine outside.  Many experts consider the cooler air to be invigorating!  Of course dress appropriately so you don't freeze any digits , ears or nose, but increasing your body heat by walking in snow or cold air, can burn calories and warm you up quickly. If you are working on your weight, consider this: you will burn more calories when you are cold because your body needs to rev up its metabolism to keep you warm. As great as that sound, play it smart and dress in layers.

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