Tips and Tricks for Winter Health

Cold weather safety tips can keep you warm and healthy through the winter

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

It's wintertime again — when temperatures take a dive. But don't let your health take a dive as well.

Whether you prefer to careen down a ski slope or curl up by a fire, the winter is an exciting time. Make the most of it by staying healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a report with many ways to combat the cold weather. The bottom line was preparation. Start preparing now so you'll be able to enjoy the winter wonderland later.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Frigid temperatures can be dangerous without the proper precautions. Be aware of the wind chill in your area before you venture outside. Serious medical conditions like hypothermia (low body temperature) and frostbite (freezing of the skin) can result from prolonged exposure.

When spending time outdoors, dress in layers and wear protective outerwear. Keep in mind that body heat loves to escape through your head. Be sure to lock heat in tight with a hat or a hood. You can always comb your hair again later.

Don't forget that your fingers and toes are the most vulnerable body parts to frostbite. Wear thick gloves, and keep your tootsies toasty with socks and waterproof boots. If your clothes get wet, be sure to change them as soon as possible.

Snow drifts can often hide obstacles like fire hydrants, bicycles and even entire cars beneath them. Keep walkways clear of snow, and use cat litter or rock salt to make slippery surfaces safer. Snow shoveling can be hard work — and overexertion often occurs more quickly in cold weather. Low temperatures can cause your blood vessels to constrict. This means your heart must work harder to push the blood through these tiny spaces. Pushing your heart to the brink could trigger a heart attack, especially if you have an underlying heart problem. Be sure to take breaks often.

Be aware of your surroundings. Frozen ponds and lakes can be easily concealed. And keep your distance — the water's edge may be unclear. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation says that a person on cracking ice should lie down immediately to distribute his or her weight. Witnesses should call 911 for professional rescue assistance.

The Snow Is So Pretty ... Through the Window

Staying inside might reduce your winter weather worries. But cold temperatures cause some challenges inside the home as well. The CDC recommends taking some precautions to minimize these hazards.

The primary indoor risk during winter is often the home heating system. Whether you rely on a roaring fire or a roaring furnace, you should have it professionally inspected before winter arrives.

Malfunctioning heating systems pose a risk for fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Check that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries. The warning signs for carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, dizziness, chest pain, nausea and vomiting.

Tenesha R. Chappell, MD, an internal medicine physician at the Baylor Regional Medical Center at McKinney, TX, told dailyRx News that the best way to detect carbon monoxide is with a carbon monoxide detector. Dr. Chappell recommended keeping fresh batteries in plugged-in detectors as a backup in case the power goes out.

"If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning move to a place with fresh air right away and dial 911 to call for an ambulance," Dr. Chappell said.

Heating systems can only do so much. Winterize your home with weather stripping and insulation to stay even warmer. During extreme cold, let faucets drip to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. In case of an emergency, have a survival kit with food, water, flashlights and medicine. Hang blankets over windows and doors to insulate your home as much as possible.

If Only You Had a Sleigh

Staying snuggled up at home isn't always an option. Winter travel may be necessary, especially around the holidays. Prepare for the road by following these tips from the CDC.

Unless you are traveling by snowmobile or skis, snow and ice can make travel difficult. Be sure to check your tire tread or switch to snow tires if possible. Have your antifreeze levels checked, and also make sure your windshield wiper fluid is a winter formula. To prevent freezing of your car's gas lines, always keep gas in the tank.

That gas will come in handy if you get stranded and the engine is the only heat source you have. Be prepared for this dangerous situation by creating a car emergency kit. The essentials it should contain are blankets, food, water, a flashlight, a first aid kit, jumper cables, flares, kitty litter (for tire traction), a bright flag or bit of cloth, a compass and maps, a battery-powered radio and plastic bags (for sanitation).

If you become stranded, do not leave your vehicle unless safety is within 100 yards. Instead, raise your vehicle's hood and tie your bright flag to the antenna. Only run the engine for 10 minutes out of every hour, and ensure the tailpipe does not become blocked with snow. This can prevent exhaust from leaving the exhaust pipe, which puts the car's occupants at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Prepare now so you can relax and enjoy the arctic blast when it arrives. Less time spent on winter worries leaves more time to enjoy a mug of hot cocoa.

Review Date: 
December 15, 2014