Tips for staying healthy during a snowstorm

Posted at 2:28 PM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-23 07:04:12-05

As the winter weather blows in, it’s important to take care of your body. Here are some snowstorm health tips to keep in mind.

Bundle up

Everyone is urged to stay indoors, but for those who must head out into the cold, proper clothing is the first layer of defense. Cold-related injuries such as hypothermia can be life-threatening.

Hypothermia occurs when someone’s core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Dr. Darren Mareiniss, emergency medical physician at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

At its worst, severe hypothermia can cause confusion, loss of consciousness, clumsiness and low energy, according to the Mayo Clinic. These conditions are particularly troubling for those who are more vulnerable to illness. “People who are truly susceptible are those who tend to have a high mortality such as the homeless, the elderly and people who are alcoholics,” Mareiniss said.

While hypothermia can take hold very easily, layering is the smartest move.

“For those who can’t stay indoors, wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing because it helps to insulate multiple layers of warmth,” said Dr. Emmanuel Oke, emergency medical physician at Sinai Hospital. Dr. Oke says multiple layers are the best for warmth, and also hats, mittens and gloves go a long way.

RELATED: Tips for staying safe in freezing temperatures

Take a break & get warm

It’s important to take regular warm-up breaks to fight against frostbite. This tip is particularly important for those who work outdoors.

Mareiniss says frostbite occurs when “your extremities are exposed to the cold to the point that your cellular structure freezes and kills cells within your exposed skin, fingers and toes.”

If you experience numbness, tingling, color change or if your hands start to feel like wood, take a break and go warm up. These are key early warning signs of frostbite.

While indoors, you can also run slow, tepid water over your hands for about 10-15 minutes to ease the burn, according to Oke, but be cautious. Avoid rapid warming with hot water.

Also, be sure to wear dry socks and comfortable shoes if you’re hiking or in the snow. Wet clothing is another frostbite contributor.

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Go easy on your heart

Once the snow has passed and it’s time to pull out the shovel, be sure to take your time.

“Shoveling is taxing for the heart,” said Oke. “In colder weather, the heart is susceptible to dangerous heart rhythms.” If you have to dig out your car, go at a slower pace and taking frequent breaks, especially if you have a known medical illness.

See also: Tips on how to shovel "heart attack snow"

Mareiniss agrees. Our bodies try to compensate for the cold weather and may start to pump more vigorously during shoveling, he says, which can put those with diagnosed—or even undiagnosed—heart conditions at risk. If you’re not used to engaging in heavy exercise, shoveling may not be a good idea.

Keep an eye on kids and neighbors
Children and the elderly are more susceptible to hypothermia.

Elderly people tend to be more isolated and may take medications that can fight against their ability to adapt to cold weather, Mareiniss said. Children are also at risk because they have thinner skin and are therefore less tolerant to the cold.

“You might want to regulate kids’ activities and make sure they have regular breaks for hot chocolate,” Mareiniss said. “Breaks will let them warm up and let you assess them. Check their hands, mittens and clothing,” he said.

As for letting your kids eat snow? The jury’s still out.

“I think in very small increments [eating snow] is probably okay, but I can’t attest to what would be in the snow. There could be dirt, debris or urine,” Dr. Mareiniss said. “Virgin, pure snow is good, but I wouldn’t make a meal of it.”

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