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5 health tips for cold and snowy weather: Beware of frostbite, excessive snow shoveling, icy patches

Virginian-Pilot - 1/3/2018

Jan. 03--Let's face it, snow and freezing temperatures can be bad for your health, so our top safety tip is this:

Stay inside

Get under the covers, and careful not to spill the hot chocolate.

For those who can't help themselves, here are more safety tips, courtesy Patient First, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Sentara Healthcare.

Avoid frostbite

First, what the heck is frostbite for those of us who just see it in Mount Everest movies?

Frostbite happens when your skin and the tissue beneath it are exposed to very cold temperatures and freezing conditions.

Skin will look waxy or hard and turn grayish. It may also itch or burn. Frostbitten skin turns red as the area thaws.

That sounds pretty awful, so wear warm clothing and dress in layers to prevent it.

Use hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks, and well-insulated boots to cover body parts prone to frostbite: the nose, ears, fingers and toes.

If you notice the signs of frostbite, go to a warm area as soon as possible.

If you have frostbite, seek treatment from a medical professional and take these precautions:

Remove any wet clothing. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten toes or feet.

Gently warm the frostbitten area in warm water (but not hot) until the skin appears red and warm.

Do not use direct heat to warm the skin, rub or massage the skin, or break blisters.

Keep an eye out for ice, too.

Local hospitals say their patient loads usually go down during snow storms, but up when the snow stops and people go outside and encounter ice.

Ice can be hard to spot. If you come across a patch you believe may be icy, tap the edge of the area with your foot to be sure. Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches. Make sure you have a cell phone with you when you venture out in case of a fall.

Wear shoes with gripping soles to provide traction. Keep your hands out of your pockets when walking in order to keep your balance on slippery spots.

When getting out of your vehicle, check to make sure there are no icy spots nearby. If you see there are, get back in the car and move to a different place if you can.

Also, when getting out of or into your car, use the vehicle for balance and support and to check out nearby icy patches.

Beware the shovel, which can lead to heart attacks

Dr. Ronald Stine of Sentara Cardiology Specialists in Norfolk said two factors make snow shoveling dangerous, especially for people with heart problems.

One is the intense use of the arms, especially with a heavy, wet snow. It requires more energy than you think, and raises your blood pressure and your heart rate.

Also, the cold weather constricts your blood vessels. That spells trouble for people with heart conditions, lung problems, people who smoke or who are sedentary, and those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

For people in good shape, here are some tips:

Use a small shovel, or scoop smaller amounts of snow.

Pace yourself by taking frequent 15-minute breaks.

Stay hydrated. It's best not to drink alcohol or a big meal before shoveling, because that can lead to dehydration and more of your blood working on digestion.

Be mindful of the warning signs of a heart attack: lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, tightness or burning in chest, neck, arms or back.

If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911.

Stay hydrated

Remember that hot chocolate? Keep it near.

Dehydration is common during the winter, even though we think about it more in the summer. Winter activities can be strenuous and we also wear layers of warm clothing. That means our bodies work harder, by sweating, to cool us down.

If you don't stay hydrated you can suffer exhaustion, muscle fatigue, cramps, loss of coordination or even stroke. Dehydration also makes you an easy target for colds and flu.

Drink before, during and after exercise or outdoor activities.

Sorry, folks, we're not talking about a hot toddy or cold beer here, since alcohol dehydrates. Stick with foods like soup, fruits and vegetables. And hot chocolate in moderation.

___

(c)2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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