Much of the Northeast is covered in a thick blanket of snow thanks to winter storm Hercules. And that means potential health hazards.
More than 100 million were affected by the overnight dumping of up to two feet of snow. When it comes to weathering the cold, you probably know the basics, like keeping your head covered in order to lower your risk of hypothermia and making sure that the elderly and children are adequately bundled since they are more at risk of dropping body temperatures. But here are some tips from experts that might not be so obvious, and could keep you safe throughout the snowy season.
Be extra careful if you have a chronic medical condition: Chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure and the cold weather don’t mix. According to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, cold temperatures and extra physical activity from shoveling snow can be risky, since the cold tends to shrink blood vessels, making the heart pump harder to keep blood flowing to fingers and toes. The combination can significantly increase your risk for a heart attack, especially for those with a history of hypertension, heart disease and stroke.
Don’t drink and shovel: Avoid heading out to shovel after downing a cup of coffee or an alcoholic beverage, because drinking can lead to dehydration. Drinking alcohol can also hasten heat loss, and impair your ability to tell how cold you are while outside. Take breaks while you shovel, and remember to drink water to stay hydrated. Stop shoveling if you start feeling dizzy, or if you experience chest pain or difficulty breathing, and call 911.
Use a smaller shovel or a snowblower: Your blood pressure can sometimes rise sharply if you are lifting heavy snow, so Glatter recommends lifting smaller amounts even if it takes more shovelfuls to clear your driveway, or using a blower to push the snow. Remember to bend your knees to avoid back injuries.
Hold an object or bag in your dominant hand: This could help you to avoid braking a dominant hand or arm if you fall on the ice, according to orthopaedic surgeons from New York’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Since falls happen fast, people often instinctively try to break their fall with their dominant hands and arms — the right side for right-handers, and the left for left-handers — making everyday life difficult during recovery. If you hold something in your dominant hand, you are less likely to use it when you fall, and therefore less likely to injure it severely.
“Do the Shuffle”: If you are walking across ice, shuffle your feet by moving them very slightly apart as you shoot across the ice. This gives you better balance on slippery surfaces.