Brrrr…While the cold and snow certainly bring their share of fun -- skiing, sledding, hot chocolate, cozy sweaters, snowmen and snowball fights -- serious and life-threatening safety hazards are everywhere. Here are the top dangers as you walk (or run, drive, sled, skate and shovel) your way through a Winter Wonderland, along with some tips to stay safe while enjoying the season.
Frostbite is a serious condition in which excessive exposure to extreme cold freezes body tissue, causing damage and injury. Like burns, there are degrees of frostbite, and the condition can have a lasting impact. In extreme cases it can result in the loss of fingers or toes. Frostbite can also lead to a number of long-term problems, including lack of sensation, arthritis, or nerve damage such as tingling in the extremities.
Signs of frostbite include lack of sensation in the extremities and skin that looks white or grayish and is hard or waxy. If a person has signs of frostbite, it’s important that they immediately go indoors and warm up. Do not walk on frostbitten toes or feet. Soak frostbitten extremities in warm water.
Get frostbite evaluated by a doctor, who may wrap up the affected area in medical dressings and prescribe an antibiotic to clear up or prevent skin infection. In cases of significant damage a patient may be faced with undergoing an amputation.
Snow shoveling-induced heart attack
A study published in 2010 in the journal Lancet found a scary trend: Heavy snowfall, cold weather and low pressure are associated with an increase in heart attacks. The study found that between 1974 and 1978 ischemic heart disease deaths rose by 22 percent during blizzard weeks and stayed high for the about a week after a heavy snowfall.
Some doctors do not recommend shoveling to people over age 55 who are typically sedentary, and especially someone with a history of heart problems. But even a healthy person should take some precautions. As with any exercise, it’s important to remember to breathe, and in this case, be sure and dress warmly. Also proper shoveling form is essential: Push the snow, don’t lift it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there were a total of total of 16,911 deaths in the U.S. between 1999 and 2011 due to hypothermia. This is a serious condition in which the body loses heat faster than normal. The condition occurs when a person’s body temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include shivering, dizziness, nausea, rapid or slow heart beat, sleepiness and disorientation.
To prevent hypothermia, it’s important to dress as warmly as possible if you plan to spend extended amounts of time outdoors. Change clothing if it becomes damp due to snow or sweating. Of course, a surefire way to avoid hypothermia is to limit the amount of time you spend outdoors.
The most effective way to treat hypothermia is to warm the body up fast: Go indoors, change out of wet clothing, drink warm beverages. In some instances, the condition can require hospitalization and medical care.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has some startling figures: More than 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 people are injured in vehicle crashes on snowy, slushy or icy pavement annually. Each year, 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy pavement.
The National Traffic Safety Institute has some winter driving safety tips. Above all, go slow, and if you get stuck stay in your vehicle for warmth.
It’s also important to winter-proof a car before you hit the road. Make sure the washer fluid and antifreeze are topped off, install new wiper blades, check your tires and replace the battery of your car.
Falls and slips
At best you embarrass yourself in public with a dramatic slip on the ice that lands you flat on your face or smack on your butt. At worst you’ll break a bone, sprain a wrist or crack your head open.
To avoid serious injury (and public humiliation) don’t run and be sure to wear winter boots or sturdy shoes with sufficient treads.
Sledding, skiing & other sports
Dashing through the snow can culminate with a night in the emergency room, as can racing down the black diamond ski slope and trying out the triple lutz at your local ice-skating rink.
Winter sports are fun but they can also lead to sprains, pulled muscles, broken bones, concussions and spinal injury that can result in paralysis.
According the National Ski Areas Association, approximately 42 people die each year in skiing or snowboarding accidents. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that an estimated 229,000 children a year sustain sledding accidents that require a trip to the ER.
Avoid injury and unnecessary medical bills by not sledding or skiing on trails with trees. Wear protective gear, especially helmets. And as much as it may pain the daredevil in you, try to take it easy and go slow.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can build up from a faulty furnace or from using certain fuel-burning space heaters or portable generators without sufficient ventilation.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission, approximately 170 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent the potential for poisoning. Have your heating system serviced regularly. Every home should have carbon monoxide alarms (often combined with smoke detectors) that can detect a leak. Never operate portable generators or gas portable heaters or other gas-powered appliances inside your home or other enclosed spaces The CPSC has a number of tips that can help any homeowner follow proper safety precautions.
If you suspect there is a carbon monoxide leak in your home, open all windows, evacuate the building and call 911 for help.