Snow Shovel Winter Safety

Winter Safety Tips

Winter brings its own unique health challenges. Some examples include colds and flu, seasonal affective disorder, frostbite, and risk of injury or heart attack from shoveling snow. Bayhealth Family Medicine Physician Joseph Parise, DO, shares the following winter safety tips related to frostbite and shoveling snow.

Prevent frostbite. There are different types of frostbite, which is damage to skin from cold weather. Superficial frostbite happens when you’re out in the cold a little too long. Your skin will turn red, then white, and then it gets pale and you start having discomfort. When you warm your skin, you might notice it gets blotchy, and after 12 to 36 hours, a little blistering may occur. You can typically recover from this type of frostbite without any permanent injury.

When you have deep frostbite, your skin will turn white and then blue/grey, it will get numb and you will start losing sensation, and then within a day or two, really big blisters that are hard and black will appear. Deep frostbite can lead to complications such as long-term cold sensitivity, infections, gangrene, and amputation.

Frostbite is more likely if it’s windy, if you’re dehydrated, if you’re sweating excessively, and after you’ve consumed alcohol or smoked cigarettes. Babies, young children, seniors, and people with diabetes, peripheral artery disease, or a past history of frostbite are also more prone to it. Staying outside too long and not wearing proper clothing increases your risk of frostbite, and eventually, hypothermia, which is actually a type of frostbite.

To prevent frostbite, dress in layers because the air that’s trapped between them acts like an insulator, wear a hat, as 20 to 30 percent of body heat is lost through your head, and keep your nose, ears, chin, fingers, and toes covered since these areas are most vulnerable. Lastly, mittens are better than gloves. If you wear gloves, you should wear two pairs, and the same goes with socks. If you see any signs of frostbite, go inside, remove any wet clothing because that can make your body temperature drop even more, and seek medical attention.

Use proper snow shoveling techniques. Thousands of people go to the hospital each year with an injury caused by shoveling snow, with back injuries being very common. There’s also a correlation between shoveling snow and heart attacks because it’s strenuous physical activity, especially when shoveling heavy wet snow. Those at greatest risk are people with a prior heart attack, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, smokers, and those who don’t get much physical activity. Shoveling snow is also more dangerous for older people.

Since most heart attacks occur early in the morning, wait at least 30 minutes after waking up before you shovel snow and make sure you warm up and stretch before you go out to shovel. Proper snow shoveling techniques include pushing the snow instead of lifting it, and if you do lift it, use your knees and not your back. Go slowly and listen to your body—if it’s tired, stop and go inside to rest. You may also want to consider using a shovel with a bent handle because it’s more ergonomic. Lastly, don’t eat a big meal or drink alcohol beforehand.

Visit our community health blog for other health and wellness tips.