The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 23, 2013

Speaking of Health: Watch out for winter health mishaps

Risk of falls, frostbite, illness come with winter

Lori Schumacher, physician assistant
Mayo Clinic Health System

---- — Snow, ice and the arctic-chilled air that engulfs Minnesotans from November to March adds an unwanted layer of difficulty to life. But the problems winter poses don’t stop at inconvenience — there are major health concerns to be aware of and attempt to prevent as well.

Here are a few common potential health issues to watch out for throughout the next few months.

Slips and falls

Slips and falls account for nearly 9 million unintentional injuries in the United States each year, per the National Safety Council. Most slips and falls occur at building entrances, on lawns, in parking lots and garages, and inside of walkways.

Watch out for uneven ground, protruding structures, holes, and debris that can cause slips, trips and falls. Also, be aware of ice- and snow-packed surfaces — they increase the risk of falling.

Some tips for preventing slips and falls:

• Wear the right shoes. Properly fitted shoes increase comfort, reduce fatigue and improve safety.

• Take your time. If you notice that the floor or ground doesn’t have much traction, walk slow and be careful with each step.

• Walk safely. Walk with your feet slightly pointed forward and try the “shuffle step” to prevent slips, trips and falls. Watch our video to learn more.

Frostbite

Having cold extremities is one thing, but frostbite is a whole different condition. And it’s a very serious one. The first step to preventing frostbite is to know when you’re most at risk. Your risk is elevated if you smoke, have a blood vessel disease like diabetes, aren’t wearing proper clothing, are dehydrated or fatigued, and if you’re at a higher altitude.

Once aware of your level of risk, take these measures to prevent frostbite:

• Cover your ears, face, head and nose

• Wear proper boots or shoes — no sandals or open-toed shoes

• Wear mittens or gloves — mittens provide better protection

• Put on two pairs of socks on extremely cold days

• Pack your car with winter survival gear (blankets, flashlights, matches, etc.) in case of emergency

• Travel with another person whenever possible

Illnesses

Winter is a season where colds and influenza are more prevalent than any other time of the year. There are some things you can do today to help prevent winter illness:

• Get your flu shot. The most effective way to stop the spread of influenza is to receive a flu vaccination. Experts recommend that people ages 6 months and older get a flu shot.

• Practice proper hand washing. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is particularly important before leaving the bathroom, eating or touching your face.

A good rule of thumb is to wash your hands for 20 seconds, about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” Use a paper towel to shut off the faucet and open the door while in a public restroom. This will keep you from recontaminating your hands.

• Don’t smoke. In general, smoking makes you more susceptible to illness.

• Eat healthy and exercise. A nutritious diet and regular physical activity helps keep you healthy and boosts your immune system.

From slips to frostbite to winter-related illness, cold weather poses many challenges for people of all ages. Using these tips will aid you in your attempt to combat winter health mishaps and maintain good health.

Lori Schumacher is a Mayo Clinic Health System emergency medicine physician assistant.

For more information, please go to mayoclinichealthsystem.org.

Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.