Winter Weather Safety Tips
When temperatures are extremely cold, especially with high winds, try to stay indoors. If you must go outside, make trips as brief as possible and use these tips to protect your health and safety:
DRESS WARMLY AND STAY DRY
Hats and heavy scarves are important to decrease the amount of heat escaping from your head. Choose mittens over gloves as mittens are more effective in keeping hands warm. Multiple layers of clothing should be worn, with the innermost layers made of wool, silk, or polypropylene as these fabrics hold body heat better than cotton. Layering clothing traps multiple layers of air against the body, further decreasing heat loss. Try to stay dry because wet clothing will chill the body more rapidly. If you perspire, removing an extra layer of clothing will help keep you dry. Coats should be tightly woven, wind and water-resistant, and have sleeves that are snug at the wrists. Wearing waterproof, lined boots with wool socks are your best bet for keeping your feet warm.
NEVER IGNORE SHIVERING
Shivering is an important first sign that the body is losing too much heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors immediately. Ignoring early signs like shivering may lead to more serious medical conditions such as frostbite or hypothermia. Tingling or itching skin can indicate frostbite. Slowed body responses and impaired reasoning are signs of hypothermia.
If you suspect mild frostbite or hypothermia, move to a warm and dry environment, remove any wet clothes, and rewarm with blankets. Seek medical attention from your doctor or urgent care clinic if you have any questions or concerns. More severe cases of frostbite or hypothermia need immediate and aggressive treatment in an emergency room.
Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow. Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so take frequent breaks and don’t overdo it.
- Warm up your muscles by stretching and walking
- Shovel small loads of snow at a time and work slowly
- Bend your knees and avoid twisting your body
- Keep your back straight and let your arms bear the load
- Never ignore back or chest pain
- Watch your step on the ice, sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches
TRAVEL AND SAFETY
Ice and snow covered walkways and roadways present challenges while walking and driving. Drive with extreme caution and watch your step in parking lots.
- When driving, reduce speed and increase the distance between your car and the car in front of you. Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses and bridges when possible
- Have a full tank of gas, keep an emergency kit in your car, and have your cell phone with you
- If you get stranded, stay in your car, call or wait for help
- Never walk across a lake or pond that looks frozen
- Ice skate on safe and tested surfaces only
- Avoid walking on snow and ice covered roadways and walkways. Use extreme caution while walking near high piles of snow as drivers may not see you
- Notify friends and family where you will be before you go, especially when participating in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, or skiing
For more information about winter weather health and safety tips, go to: http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.asp
Cynthia Vanson, MD
Assistant Medical Director, Urgent Care of Connecticut