By: Lisa K. Seefeld, MD, Aurora Health Care

Different times of the year come with different health challenges. While summer can mean heat-related ailments and injuries from outdoor activities, the winter season brings dangerously cold temperatures and icy conditions.

Let’s take a quick look at your winter health risks and how you can reduce them:

Frostbite — This happens when parts of your body freeze. It can cause permanent body damage. How to avoid frostbite:

  • Dress in loose layers.
  • Make sure extremities such as hands, feet, ears, nose and cheeks are covered. Mittens are a better choice in the cold than gloves for keeping fingers warm.

Hypothermia — This happens when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees. A sign of hypothermia is severe shivering. If not treated, shivering can give way to drowsiness, fatigue, confusion and shallow breathing. Get the victim to a warm space and remove wet clothing. Wrap victim with blankets or towels to warm them up. Call for professional help.

Slips and falls — Think practical footwear with good traction. You can always pack your fashion footwear in a bag and take it with you. Salt, sand or kitty litter are helpful for improving the traction on icy sidewalks. Plan to wear gloves or mittens. Keeping your hands in your pockets leaves you more vulnerable to falling.

Snow shoveling — This job is more physical than you may be used to. Warm up your muscles before you shovel. Choose the right shovel. A short shovel for lifting snow. A long shovel for pushing snow. Pushing snow is easier than lifting it.

Carbon monoxide poisoning — December and January are peak times for this health issue. A functioning carbon monoxide detector can save lives. For your family’s safety, check your detectors monthly. Replace your detector’s battery in the spring and fall. Use only heaters approved and properly installed for indoor use. Don’t run a vehicle in an enclosed space.

Automobile accidents — Traffic accidents are becoming more common. Ice and snow surprise lots of drivers, even later in the season. Avoid being an accident victim by checking weather before traveling, winterizing your car and your tires, setting your phone aside while you drive (no texting or surfing) and following good winter driving tips.

Fires in the home — Fireplaces and candles cause fires and burns every winter. One study found candles cause 25 reported home fires every day. Most of these fires happen because something combustible comes in contact with the flame. Have your fireplace professionally inspected. The inspection frequency depends on how you use your fireplace.

Take time to follow these tips each winter, and you’ll dramatically reduce your chances for injury – or worse.

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