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Tufts Public Health » Blizzards, Emergencies, Emergency Preparedness, Winter Health » Staying Healthy in a Winter Wonderland

Staying Healthy in a Winter Wonderland

Winter Storm Juno has swept the East Coast, and the Tufts Health Sciences Campus has been buried in snow. Many students rejoiced at the news of two consecutive snow days, taking advantage of the time to relax, get ahead on work, and catch up on Netflix. The blizzard has passed, but the forecast predicts temperatures as low as 0° degrees over the next week, as well as the possibility of more precipitation. With snow, ice, and freezing temperatures, below are several recommendations for staying safe throughout the rest of the winter.

Now that the winds are dying down, it is more tempting than ever to go outside and indulge in that nostalgic desire to build a snowman or go sledding. These activities often require being outside for long periods of time, which can increase your risk of frostbite. Frostbite is the result of freezing, and it causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas most commonly the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Severe cases can permanently damage the body and even lead to amputation. Since many people do not even notice the symptoms right away, it is important to be on the lookout for the telltale signs: white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually waxy or firm, and/or numbness. If you suspect frostbite, seek medical care to avoid complications. If you cannot seek care right away, get into a warm room; immerse the affected area in warm- not hot- water; do not massage the area, do not use a heating source besides water or natural body heat; and do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary. Fortunately, frostbite is fairly preventable. If you know you have problems with reduced blood circulation, do not go outside for extended periods of time. If you are going to be outside for a while, make sure to cover up with a hat, scarf, boots and gloves!

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The risk of getting carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can be greatly increased in the winter especially when power lines are knocked out due to blizzard winds because many people try to heat their homes with power from a generator, or by burning charcoal and wood. Unfortunately, CO can be found in combustion fumes from these sources and can build up, ultimately poisoning people and animals. CO exposure is a significant health risk, as it can cause loss of consciousness and death. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion; and those who are sleeping or have been drinking alcohol can die before developing any of these symptoms.
To protect your household against CO poisoning, never use a gas range or oven to heat the home; do not run a generator indoors or outside an open window, door or vent; and keep generators at least twenty feet from the home. Even if you take precautions, CO poisoning can still occur. Therefore, make sure to have a CO detector and check or replace the battery when you change your clocks each spring and fall.

Heart Health
Snow maintenance activities like shoveling or pushing a heavy snow blower can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The cold air can also cause blood vessel constriction and decrease oxygen to the heart. The combination of these effects can overwork the heart and trigger a fatal heart attack. If you have had a prior heart attack, have a known heart disease, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, smoke, or lead a sedentary lifestyle, talk to your doctor before picking up the shovel. If you are at-risk but absolutely have to shovel, it is recommend that you warm up your muscles; do not eat a heavy meal before shoveling; avoid taking stimulants (i.e. coffee, cigarettes) at least one hour before and one hour after shoveling; use a small shovel/take small loads; take frequent 15 minute breaks; stay hydrated; and dress for the weather. If you notice symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, or burning in the chest, neck, arms or back and suspect a heart attack, immediately stop shoveling and call 911.

Alcohol Use
It is never a good idea to binge on alcohol, but it is especially dangerous during a snowstorm. If someone overdoses and needs medical attention, snowy and icy roads may prevent you from getting the person to the emergency room in time. Emergency vehicles will also have to navigate the rough roads, slowing down their response. If you are planning to consume alcohol, stick to your limits and avoid drinking games.

Visit the CDC to learn about more tips to stay safe during the rest of the winter.

Be safe!



Filed under: Blizzards, Emergencies, Emergency Preparedness, Winter Health

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