SIUH Doctors Offer Tips on Cold Weather Risks


As temperatures drop, new health hazards set in

Published: Wednesday, December 07, 2011, 10:34 AM     Updated: Wednesday, December 07, 2011, 10:36 AM
Staten Island Advance  
winter.jpg To prevent frostbite, properly dress for the weather and cover all extremities. (Associated Press File Photo)
Tips from Staten Island University Hospital  

Don't let winter-related injuries get the better of you. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of conditions like overexertion, hypothermia and frostbite, you can keep yourself healthy well into the new year. 

Every December through February, Staten Islanders find themselves outdoors in freezing temperatures – whether they're trying to navigate icy and slushy sidewalks, waiting for buses and trains or shoveling snow. These everyday occurrences can be hazardous to your health, say doctors from Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH). 

"The classic example of a cold weather emergency is a 55-year-old man who has a heart attack while shoveling snow," said Brahim Ardolic, chairman of emergency medicine at SIUH's Ocean Breeze campus. 

If the last time you did any kind of physical activity was shoveling snow the previous year, it may be better to enlist a younger family member or pay someone to shovel for you, he said. 

"Just like joining a gym or running a marathon, you need to get cleared to do physical exertion," said Dr. Ardolic. This is especially true for people who have diabetes or heart disease. At least two people die each year on Staten Island from heart attacks caused by shoveling snow, noted Dr. Ardolic. 

If you must shovel, make sure to pace yourself. Take frequent breaks to give your heart a rest. Push the snow rather than trying to lift it or throw it over your shoulder. 

Stop shoveling immediately and seek medical help if you experience any of the following heart attack symptoms: Pain or pressure in your chest; jaw, neck, shoulder or arm pain; shortness of breath; dizziness; fainting; sweating or nausea. 

Hypothermia is another cold-weather condition to make note of. Hypothermia sets in when your body temperature drops to 95 degrees Fahrenheit or less. The very young and elderly are most at risk of developing hypothermia when exposed to cold temperatures. 

Wearing clothes that are wet – either because of precipitation or sweat – only intensifies the risk of hypothermia. 

"When you have dry clothing on, you have a barrier to stop heat loss," explained Dr. Ardolic. "Once that clothing is wet, there is no insulating barrier and you start to lose body heat really fast." 

In turn, your body starts to shiver in an attempt to warm itself. 

"If you're actually so cold that you're not shivering, that's not a good thing," said Dr. Ardolic. 

When hypothermia sets in, shivering stops as your body tries to conserve energy. 

Other signs of hypothermia include feeling clumsy and disoriented, drowsiness, slurred speech, slow or irregular heartbeat, and shallow breathing. Immediate medical attention is required because this condition can be fatal. 

Another complication of exposure to the cold is frostbite. Unlike hypothermia, which is systemic, frostbite affects only a particular area of the body – most commonly, the fingers, nose, ears, chin or toes. 

"The first thing that happens is you're going to lose sensation in that area," said Dr. James Kenny, associate chairman of emergency medicine at SIUH Prince's Bay campus. "It's not unusual for the affected area to present with some redness at first, then purple, become pale and can even turn black." 

In some extreme cases, the skin and body tissue is so damaged by frostbite that patients are admitted to the hospital's burn unit for care, he said. 

The best prevention for frostbite, explained Dr. Kenny, is to make sure you're properly dressed for the weather with all extremities covered. 
This Take Care column came courtesy of Staten Island University Hospital as a community service. It was written by Diane O'Donnell. 


© 2011 SILive.com. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

SIUH Storm Update: Tuesday, January 27, 2015