The first day of winter is less than a month away – so get ready now to stay healthy all season long. Cold weather can bring with it some serious health dangers, particularly for young children, older adults, and the chronically ill. Here are our top five cold-weather health and safety tips to keep you and your family safe during another Vermont winter.
Hypothermia happens when your body temperature drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or less. It can be fatal if not detected quickly and treated correctly. If you have it, you’ll first feel cold, shiver, and seem socially withdrawn. As it worsens, you may become confused, sleepy, and slur your speech. In the most severe stage, the heart slows down dangerously.
- Wear warm, multi-layered clothing. Protect your extremities: Wear hand and feet protection and a hat or hood.
- If you notice symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. If it is not available, remove any clothing that’s wet and wrap yourself up in a warm blanket to prevent additional heat loss.
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages.
- Do not take a hot shower or bath as it can cause shock.
Colds and flu
Colds and flu are more prevalent in winter. Cold symptoms include a dry, scratchy or sore throat, sneezing, headache, runny nose with watery mucus, watery eyes, chills, and a fever. Later symptoms can include a blocked nose, sinus pain, a cough that keep you awake at night, muscle aches and pains, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Flu symptoms are typically worse and happen faster than cold symptoms and include a fever of about 100 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a dry cough, muscle aches, headache, a blocked nose, sore throat, and feeling extremely tired.
- Though there is no cure for a cold, taking cold medicines may help lessen symptoms. Do not take antibiotics as they don’t work for viruses.
- For flu, the CDC recommends zanamivir(Relenza), an inhaled drug, for treatment in people age 7 and older or a combination of oseltamivir and rimantadine.
Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas like your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. It can permanently damage body tissue, and severe cases may lead to amputation. Signs include reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers or toes can freeze), numbness, tingling or stinging, aching, and bluish or pale, waxy skin.
- Wear warm, multi-layered clothing when you plan to be outdoors for an extended amount of time.
- Keep dry as wet clothes increase the chance of heat loss.
- If you notice the signs, go into a warm room immediately. Immerse the affected area in warm water or warm it area using body heat.
- Avoid rubbing or massaging a frostbitten area as doing so may cause more damage.
- Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming as affected areas are numb and can easily burn.
Five percent of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) each year, a type of depression that occurs during the winter months. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, excessive sleepiness, social withdrawal, and trouble concentrating.
- For mild cases, doing exercise might bring relief.
- For more persistent cases, talk to your doctor about therapies, including light therapy and antidepressants. Learn more here.
- Other treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Heart attacks are more common in winter because cold temperatures may increase blood pressure and put more strain on your heart. Your heart also works harder to maintain body heat when it’s cold. Warning signs for a heart attack include, chest pain (though not always), shortness of breath, sudden fatigue or dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, and blue tinge to skin.
- Take it easy when exerting yourself in the cold to help prevent a heart attack.
- If the symptoms we mentioned above strike, call 911 immediately.