Top Winter Safety Tips

Monday, Jan 26, 2015

Winter is here, a good time to remember some basic safety tips to keep healthy and out of harm's way. Whether it's frigid temperatures or the aftermath or a snowstorm, it's important to be prepared and keep safety first.

It happens every year. Every winter, to be precise.

Robert Linkeheimer, DO, FACOEP, medical director of the Doylestown Hospital Emergency Department, sees cases of heart attack brought on by shoveling, or fingers mangled by the blades of a snow blower.

Based on his more than two decades experience in emergency medicine, Dr. Linkenheimer has come up with a list of winter safety tips to keep people safe, healthy and out of the ER.

Dress Warmly

It might sound pretty simple, but it pays to dress appropriately when going outdoors in winter weather to avoid medical issues like frostbite (frozen body tissue) and hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature, when your body loses heat faster than you can produce it).

"Dress in layers and make sure to protect any body parts that are exposed and vulnerable to frostbite," says Dr. Linkenheimer. "That includes fingers, toes, nose and ears."

  • Layers of warm clothes should be used along with hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks, and well-insulated boots.
  • Inner layers that absorb moisture and outermost layers that are windproof and waterproof are also helpful.

Children are at greater risk for frostbite than adults, because they lose heat from their skin more quickly and because they may not want to leave winter fun to go inside and warm up. Make sure children come in at regular intervals and remove any wet clothing. Have them drink something warm to warm up their core.

Adults should also enjoy a warm beverage, but avoid alcohol, which actually lowers the core temperature of the body.

Hypothermia sets in when body temperature dips below 95 degrees. A symptom is a change in mental status, which indicates a medical emergency.

Heat Your Home Safely

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It can come from things like improperly vented kerosene and gas space heaters, furnaces, woodstoves, gas stoves, fireplaces and water heaters, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and tobacco smoke.

December and January are the peak times for carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the National Safety Council, which suggests:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home and replace the battery each spring and fall.
  • Do not heat your home with a gas range or oven, and make sure generators are used in well-ventilated areas. Check your furnaces every year to make sure there are no leaks.

Symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning, which is a medical emergency, include headache and flu-like symptoms (fatigue, weakness, dizziness).

Use Caution When Clearing Snow

Both shoveling and using a snow blower can be hazardous to your health.

"If you don't engage in physical activity on a regular basis and are a little older, it's not a good idea to shovel snow," advises Dr. Linkenheimer.

Improper lifting techniques can lead to back issues, or worse. "Overexerting in the cold weather can lead to heart attacks. We see it every year in the Emergency Department," says Dr. Linkenheimer.

Snow Shoveling Tips:

  • Take frequent breaks, pace yourself, and pay attention to how your body feels.
  • Don't eat a heavy meal before or soon after shoveling.
  • Don't drink alcohol before or immediately after shoveling.
  • Talk to your doctor. If you have cardiac or other health issues, are out of shape, and are over 40, make sure it's safe for you to shovel.

Snow Blower Safety:

  • Always turn the snow blower off before clearing any jams.
  • Never clear jams or clean the blower with your hands. Even when the machine is turned off, the blades can kick into gear and injure or sever fingers. Use a stick or some other implement to clear and clean the blower.
  • Refuel your snow blower when it is turned off, not while it is running.

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