Snow Hazard Safety Tips From St. Francis Hospital
ROSLYN, NY – Mark P. Hoornstra, MD, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Francis Hospital, The Heart Center®, advises Long Island residents to be prepared for three dangers common to extreme weather situations such as the recent record-breaking blizzard.
- Heart attacks related to snow shoveling
- Falling and injuring oneself
- Exposure to the cold
According to the American Heart Association, many people are not conditioned to physical stress and do not know the dangers of being outdoors in cold weather. Physical exertion, particularly snow shoveling, in frigid weather can result in back strain, muscle aches and, even more significant, sudden heart attacks. Hoornstra says shoveling snow can be an extremely strenuous activity that stresses the body’s cardiovascular system.
“Shoveling snow is often viewed as a normal household chore, but for those who have risk factors such as high cholesterol, diabetes or hypertension, or are smokers, it can be lethal,” said Hoornstra. “The physical demands of snow shoveling can cause the heart to pump blood faster, while the low temperature constricts the arteries. That combination may trigger the plaque in the arteries to rupture in individuals who have coronary artery disease, leading to a heart attack.”
Hoornstra offers these tips to avoid heart-related stress or injury when shoveling:
- Avoid eating, drinking and smoking before shoveling, because all of these activities make the heart work harder and constrict blood vessels.
- Exercise moderately in preparation for snow shoveling.
- Shovel early, before the snow packs down and becomes heavy and more difficult to shovel.
- Dress warmly to protect the heart from the danger of narrowing of the arteries.
- Stop frequently to rest. Five minutes rest for every 15 minutes of shoveling is recommended.
- If conditions are icy, spread salt or sand over the area to avoid slipping and falling.
Hoornstra says those with heart risk factors may want to check with their doctor before shoveling snow or have someone else clear the driveway.
Tips to protect yourself from fall-related injuries:
No matter how well the snow and ice are removed from sidewalks, parking lots and surrounding streets, people will invariably encounter some slippery surfaces when walking outdoors in the winter. Many cold-weather injuries are the result of falls on ice-covered streets and sidewalks. Walking on snow or ice is especially treacherous. Getting around in icy conditions calls for planning, caution and a little common sense.
- Dress warmly and wear boots with non-skid soles (avoid plastic and leather soles).
- Keep warm, but make sure you can hear what's going on around you. Wear a bright scarf or hat or reflective gear so drivers can see you, and whatever you wear, make sure it doesn't block your vision or make it hard for you to hear traffic.
- A heavy backpack or other load can challenge your sense of balance. Try not to carry too much—you need to leave your hands and arms free to better balance yourself.
- During the daytime, wear sunglasses to help you see better and avoid hazards. At night, wear bright clothing or reflective gear. Dark clothing will make it difficult for motorists to see you—especially if they aren't expecting you.
- When entering a building, remove as much snow and water from your boots as possible. Take notice that floors and stairs may be wet and slippery. Walk carefully.
- Be prepared to fall and try to avoid using your arms to break your fall. If you fall backward, make a conscious effort to tuck your chin so your head doesn't strike the ground with a full force.
- Use special care when entering and exiting vehicles—use the vehicle for support.
Streets and sidewalks that have been cleared of snow and ice should still be approached with caution. Look out for "black ice." Dew, fog or water vapor can freeze on cold surfaces and form an extra-thin, nearly invisible layer of ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement. It often shows up early in the morning or in areas that are shaded from the sun.
Protect Yourself From Freezing Temperatures
Avoid unnecessary exposure to the cold. Be aware of both the temperature and the wind chill when planning outdoor activities. When you prepare to go outside in severe cold weather, please remember the following:
- Most of your body heat is lost through your head, so wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.
- Dressing in layers helps you retain heat. You can remove layers as needed if you become too warm.
- Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.
- Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite by keeping your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.
- Get out of wet clothes immediately, and warm the core body temperature with a blanket and warm fluids like hot cider or soup. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you suspect you or someone you are trying to help has hypothermia or frostbite.
- Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia, which can be a serious medical condition: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
- Recognize frostbite warning signs: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, waxy-feeling skin. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.