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Doctors: bitter cold weather presents many health dangers

Tom Jackson • Aug 27, 2014 at 3:06 PM

So if you don’t want to wind up in an emergency room, listen to a couple of emergency room doctors.

It’s best to stay off the road and avoid spending a lot of time outdoors during a bad winter storm, but if you must go out, take precautions, said Dr. Scott Campbell, M.D., medical director of Firelands Regional Medical Center’s emergency room.

Many possible injuries can be avoided by using good sense, said Dr. Eric Adkins, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine at The Ohio State University.    “If you can avoid going out in the cold, that’s the best thing you can do right now” Adkins said.

If you go out, dress in layers. The first layer should be something that absorbs liquid, the second layer should be fleece or wool and the outer layer should be something to repel water and wind, Campbell said.

Wear thick gloves and something to protect otherwise-exposed body parts such as your face, ears and eyes, Campbell said. Wind goggles can protect your eyes, he said.

“You can burn your cornea with the wind out there today” he said.

A young person who slips and falls on the ice may be OK if there is no pain or signs of injury, but an elderly person should be checked out by a doctor for possible serious injuries, Campbell said.

No matter how old you are, if you fall and bang your head, be alert for any signs of a concussion, the doctors said.

Be sure to see the doctor if you lost consciousness, Adkins said.

Vomiting is another bad sign, Campbell said.

If the person with the head injury is taking a blood thinner, “You should come in no matter what, even if you don’t have any symptoms” he said.

If you have a history of back problems, get somebody else to shovel heavy, wet snow, Campbell said.

Snow shoveling also is a major cause of heart attacks. If you don’t normally do that kind of activity, don’t suddenly take it up after the snowstorm, he said.

If you insist on shoveling snow, “listen to your body,” Adkins said. Chest pains are a sign to call the ambulance.

Let somebody know you’re out there, so someone will notice if you don’t come back in after a reasonable time, Campbell said.

It’s normal for your hands to hurt when they are warming up when you’ve come out of the cold, but if pain persists after a couple of hours or if there are blisters, come to the emergency room, Campbell said.

“Don’t heat them up over a fire. You can burn your fingers” he said.

Warm them up with warm, not hot, water.

Keep plenty of gas in your car so you can stay in it and keep the car engine running to stay warm if you wind up on the side of the road, Campbell said.

Don’t venture out of your car. Stay in it and phone for help with your cell phone, he said.

Faulty heating systems or poor ventilation can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If everyone in the house is experiencing flulike symptoms — headache, aches, fatigue, weakness — get everyone out of the house and call 911, Adkins advises.

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