The cold weather not only brings snow, ice and chilly weather, but a number of hazards such as slips and falls from wet floors and icy stairs; frostbite and hypothermia from exposure to extreme cold temperatures; overexertion when removing snow; and injury from hazardous driving conditions to snow blowers.
“During poor weather conditions, we can predict that the Trauma Center will see an increase of patients coming in with injuries due to motor vehicle accidents,” says James Vosswinkel, MD, Chief of Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical Care, Stony Brook Medicine. “Do not drive if you don’t have to go out, but if you do or you are trying to get home, play it safe. Do not drive distracted, slow down and be aware of black ice.”
Since everyone is at potential risk for slip and falls, Jane McCormack, RN, Trauma Program Manager at Stony Brook Medicine suggests keeping key safety tips in mind to prevent severe injury:
· Keep arms and hands free to help break the fall
· Use sand or salt on walkways and steps
· Wipe shoes and boots upon entry to a home or building as the melting ice and snow makes surfaces slippery
Most importantly recognize high risk situations (stairs, darkness, and entering cars) and use extra caution. “During the winter months at Stony Brook University Hospital, we see an increase in patients who slip and fall due to the icy conditions and freezing cold,” says McCormack.
The incoming arctic air can be dangerously cold, with frostbite and hypothermia both being possible if you are outside too long.
“Prevention is the best medicine for the extreme cold,” says Steve Sandoval, MD, Director of the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital. “Cover up as much exposed skin as possible and wear as many layers as you need to stay warm If you start to get cold or lose feeling, especially in your extremities, try to get back indoors where it’s warm. Frostbite occurs when your fingers, toes, or nose become so cold they freeze.”
If the frostbite is minor, Dr. Sandoval advises to soak hands or feet in warm water (around 99 to 108 F) for 15 to 30 minutes to help raise its temperature. When a person’s core body temperature drops after an extended period of time in the cold, it is known as hypothermia.
“Use layers of dry blankets or coats to warm a person who’s suspected of having hypothermia, covering the person’s head, leaving only the face exposed,” McCormack says. “Having a hot drink can also help warm you up on the inside.”
With blizzard warnings in our future, McCormack reminds, try to avoid over-exertion.
“Extreme cold puts an extra strain on the heart and over-exertion can cause heart attacks or strokes especially in people prone to cardiovascular problems.”
Other safety tips when shoveling or removing snow:
· Warm up your muscles before starting
· Shovel many light loads instead of fewer heavy ones
· Take frequent breaks
· Drink plenty of water
· Don’t feel that you need to clear every speck of snow from your property
· Never put your hands inside of a snowplow if you suspect it is jammed
· Head indoors right away if your chest starts hurting, you feel lightheaded or short of breath, your heart starts racing, or some other physical change makes you nervous. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 911 or your local emergency number.