Winter Safety Month!
January is Winter Safety Month. Winter has arrived and brought with it snow and sub-freezing temperatures. Unfortunately, there are many hidden dangers and health hazards during winter. Here are 10 common winter health hazards.
Frostbite occurs due to the freezing of the skin. It can occur within a couple of minutes of exposure to below-freezing temperatures. The body areas most prone to frostbite are the hands, feet, nose, ears, and cheeks.
The common symptoms are tingling and pain in fingers and toes.
It is easily preventable by wearing the right winter gear, including insulated gloves and socks.
Hypothermia is a serious winter health hazard. It occurs when the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The elderly and infants are most at risk because they have more trouble regulating body temperature.
Initial symptoms occur if the body temperature drops to 95 degrees and include shivering, mild confusion, and lethargy. If body temperature continues to fall, hypothermia becomes more severe and victims cannot perform simple motor functions, speech may be slurred and the person falls into a semi-conscious state, exhibiting slurred speech and irrational behavior. The most severe state of hypothermia occurs when body temperature falls to 90 degrees. The body may go into a state of hibernation: the heart rate and breathing slow and the victim may lose consciousness.
The best protection against hypothermia is dressing correctly in layers. Properly cover the head (where 40 percent of body heat can be lost), as well as the feet, hands, and face, which are most prone to frostbite.
Limit the amount of time you spend in colder temperatures.
Treatment includes removing the wet clothing, adding layers of dry clothing and blankets.
Try warming the victim’s body by using warm compresses on the neck, chest, and groin. Drink warm non-alcoholic beverages. Use an electric warming blanket.
3. Heart Attacks
Colder temperatures make the blood vessels narrow or vasoconstrict. This can lead to heart attack.
Protect your heart by avoiding strenuous activities such as shoveling snow. If you have to shovel snow, it is important to take breaks, using smaller shovels and pushing the snow instead of lifting it to decrease the risk of a heart attack. Keep your core body temperature up by dressing warmly with a hat, gloves, and a warm coat.
4. Colds and Flu
Colds and flu are more common in winter. The colder temperatures are more favorable for the cold virus, called rhinovirus. We are more indoors during winter which makes it easier to spread the virus to each other. You can minimize the risk of getting colds and flu by washing your hands frequently, taking the flu shot and boosting your immune system.
5. Winter Depression
The winter blues are a real deal. As the days get shorter the lack of sunlight leads to depression. Due to lack of sunlight vitamin D levels can get low and may predispose you to depression. Some react to the lack of light with sadness, fatigue, trouble concentrating and excessive sleepiness, a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Winter blues can be minimized by regular exercises and maintaining normal vitamin D levels. Severe symptoms may need cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressants.
6. Cold-Weather Injuries
Walking on ice, shoveling snow, and winter sports can lead to many injuries. Back injuries are common after slipping and falling on ice while shoveling can cause shoulder problems.Prevent falls by avoiding slippery surfaces. Wear proper footwear.
7. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Exposure to carbon monoxide in winter usually results from fireplaces, stoves and defective furnaces. Its an odorless and colorless gas that can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, coma, and death.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by installing carbon monoxide monitors, confirm that they are functioning well. Repair faulty furnaces and fireplaces. Avoid running your car in a closed garage.
8. Winter Asthma
Cold air can cause an exacerbation of asthma. Indoor winter air is a threat and winter allergens like dust, mold, and pet dander can also trigger asthma. You can reduce the risk of winter asthma attacks by avoiding exposure to cold air and minimizing dust and mold exposure. HEPA filters reduce the circulating allergens and use mite-proof covers for the bedding and pillows.
9. Indoor Allergies
Winter allergies could be as bothersome as spring and fall allergies. Dust mites, mold, and pet dander are the most common winter allergens.
10. Dry skin
Dry skin is a common condition and is often worse during the winter. Take warm water rather than hot water showers. Hot water makes the skin dry and itchy. Apply moisturizing creams and lotions. The best time to apply them is after a shower or a bath when the skin is moist and at bedtime.
Disclaimer: The information is intended to provide general education for patients and their families. The information provided does not constitute medical or healthcare advice for any individual and is not a substitute for medical and other professional advice and service.
Dr. Mahesh Ochaney is a solo practitioner who has been practicing Internal Medicine since 1991. Dr. Ochaney’s compassionate primary care has been recognized several times over the years, including being named a 2018 Top Doctor by Baltimore Magazine and receiving a State of Maryland Governor’s Citation.