Winter Health and Safety Tips
Winter’s various dangers to people can occur suddenly, like a heart attack while shoveling snow, or slow and stealthily like carbon monoxide poisoning. Hypothermia and frostbite are always a concern, especially for the elderly and for people with chronic health conditions. The Ohio Departments of Aging, Health and Mental Health offer these safety tips to help keep you and your family safe this winter season.
Frostbite is the most common cold-related injury. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing of skin tissue. Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation, those who drink alcoholic beverages, the elderly and people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin – frostbite may be beginning. The following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish- yellow skin area; skin that feels usually firm or waxy; numbness. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
What to do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because both frostbite and hypothermia result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described above. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia, and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
• Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
• Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. This can increase the damage.
• Immerse the affected area in warm – not hot – water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch of unaffected parts of the body).
• Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
• Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it, at all. This can cause more damage.
• Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
These steps are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. It is a good idea to take a first aid and emergency resuscitation (CPR) course to prepare for cold-weather health problems.
Taking preventative action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold- weather conditions. By preparing your home and car in advance for winter emergencies, and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.