5 Winter Health Hazards and How To Avoid Them

couple ice skating

Winter can be an enjoyable time of outdoor sports and beautiful, white-washed landscapes. Winter also can carry -- with slippery ice, snow-filled driveways and overheated indoor air -- the potential for health concerns, both major and minor.

We talked with UH primary care physician Lily Grace Veeravalli, MD, about how to avoid five common wintertime health hazards that she often sees in her practice – and what to do if they happen to you.

Slipping On the Ice or Snow

It’s not just older adults who have to worry about falling, Dr. Veeravalli says. Avoiding falls is important for everyone regardless of age.

“This is a very common thing to see,” Dr. Veeravalli says. Her advice: Make sure you wear the proper footgear for winter weather when you are outside, especially if you are working or clearing snow.

Just like driving your car in winter weather, the most important rule is to slow down and step carefully when you are out walking on the snow and ice, Dr. Veeravalli says. Should you fall, get up slowly – you don’t want to make the same mistake and fall a second time.

When you are inside again, inspect yourself. Gently clean any cuts or abrasions and cover them with a sterile bandage. Keep an eye on any areas of swelling and apply ice. If your arm or leg is affected, elevate the limb and take a non-steroid anti-inflammatory such as Aleve or Advil.

If you feel severe pain or see large areas of swelling or bleeding, seek medical attention, she says. Other warning signs of a possible severe injury include a limb that can’t bear weight, or if you heard a popping or snapping sound during the fall.

Overexertion When Shoveling Snow

Shoveling snow is deceptively hard work, Dr. Veeravalli says. If you’re not physically active, you could be setting yourself up for an injury.

Make sure to use the appropriate size shovel when you shovel snow, Dr. Veeravalli says. If you’re a smaller person, for example, use a small shovel. “A small person and a big shovel makes for a back injury,” she says.

Don’t overfill your shovel, and don’t attempt to fling it far away. “That’s when you throw your back out,” she says.

If you hurt your back, the injury often is an overstretched muscle. You can take Tylenol/ibuprofen to ease the back pain, which should last about two to three days and should improve within a week, Dr. Veeravalli says.

If pain lasts longer, or if you experience tingling or numbness in your extremities or lose control over your bladder or bowel functions , see your doctor right away, she says.

Overdry Skin

You can avoid dry skin by applying non-scented moisturizer two times a day. Also apply non-scented moisturizer while your skin is still damp after each bath or shower and after you wash your hands.

Scented moisturizers often contain alcohol, which can dry your skin, Dr. Veeravalli says.

If you have itchy, peeling skin, it’s time to see your doctor, she says.

Sledding or Skating Injuries

It’s a great idea to get out of the house and exercise outdoors, Dr. Veeravalli says. But activities that involve speed have the potential for injury. If you’re new at skating or it’s your first downhill sled ride in a while, take it slow and pace yourself.

People who do these sports are at risk for knee and knee ligament injuries, she says. If you hear or feel a pop in your joints, see your doctor.

Hypothermia/Frostbite

It may seem obvious, but when it’s cold outside, the best way to avoid hypothermia and frostbite is to make sure you are properly bundled up, Dr. Veeravalli says.

Many people won’t wear coats, hats or gloves because they plan go straight from their cars into the building at their destination.

But if you get stranded in your car or have a traffic accident, you risk being exposed to the cold if you have to walk or wait for help. So make sure your kids are dressed for the weather, and if you don’t want to wear a coat, hat and gloves while driving, take them along in the backseat.

Wear several layers and try to cover your nose and ears with a hat and scarf. These are the parts of the body that get cold the quickest, Dr. Veeravalli says.

Related Links

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