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Published on January 01, 2012

Staying Safe and Healthy During the Winter

Accidents and illness can occur easily during the cold months of the winter season if you do not stay safe and warm. Although some injuries and illnesses are inevitable, they can be avoided and treated effectively if you take appropriate safety precautions.   

Sledding and Snowboarding

During the winter, emergency departments see a number of abdominal and head and neck injuries every year caused by sledding and snowboarding accidents. These accidents usually come from those who run into trees and large rocks.  

A report on winter sports by the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons found that snowboarding is the number-one injury sport, and sledding and snow tubing are a close second. Winter sports claim 350,000 U.S. injuries per year. Be careful and sensible. Accidents do not have to happen. Here are some safety tips:

  • Check weather conditions before setting out; adjust for ice, deep powder, wet snow, etc.
  • Dress for the occasion; wear layers.
  • Wear protective gear, such as goggles, padding, helmets and gloves.
  • Let people know where you’re going. Do not participate alone.
  • Only sled in designated areas, not on or near public streets.
  • Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you or someone with you has experienced an injury no matter how serious or minor you think the injury is.

Gregory Cuculino, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Delaware County Memorial Hospital and Taylor Hospital, adds, “Also, we advise those who participate in winter sports to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercising, and to avoid alcohol. In addition, pay attention to your body – when you are tired, take a break or stop for the day.”  

Tips for Driving in the Snow

Not surprisingly, snow and ice account for a large number of car crashes every year. Car tires have little or no traction on roads covered with ice and snow, often causing loss of control and skidding. Many injuries can occur from these accidents, some of which can be life-threatening. These tips will help drivers deal with dangerous road conditions due to wintry weather:

  • Stay where you are and wait for plows to clear the roads.
  • Make sure that you check your tires often in the winter for traction.
  • Make sure that you can see out your windows, and check wiper blades often.
  • Check your defrosters regularly.
  • Check your lights to make sure they all work.
  • Learn how to get maximum efficiency from your breaks before an emergency happens, not during an emergency.
  • Watch carefully for black ice.
  • Too much steering is not good. It won’t improve the situation and may make things worse.
  • 4-wheel drive does not make you invincible. Being able to stop is very important, and 4-wheel drive does not help with that. Going slow and steady is the key. 

Snow-Shoveling Injuries

When snowstorm season is in full swing, everyone is outside clearing the white powder off of their cars, sidewalks and driveways. On top of the stress that the snow can cause, you can be injured very easily while trying to remove snow. Snow season could be potentially dangerous, or even deadly, for those who aren’t careful. 

““Shoveling snow can be a serious safety risk if you have a history of heart disease. Very importantly, if you experience any chest pain or discomfort while shoveling, stop immediately and contact your doctor or call for an ambulance. For those using snow blowers, we see finger amputations every year from patients trying to unclog the blower,” says Bruce Nisbet, M.D., chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Here are some more shoveling tips:

  • Lift with your legs, not your back. Start with your feet slightly apart, bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so that the lifting comes from your leg muscles, not your back. Never bend at the waist. Step in the direction that you are throwing snow. Your feet should point in the direction you are lifting and throwing.
  • Start slowly, work at a steady pace and take frequent breaks. Shoveling snow rapidly for long periods at a time will compromise your safety.
  • Be sure to remain hydrated by drinking water. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and energy drinks. Dehydration can cause dizziness, fainting or worse.

Dressing for the Cold

Stay safe and stay warm. The more layers of clothes that you wear will help keep your body warm and dry. There is no set time for an individual to be out in the snow, but when it begins to feel unpleasant, you should go indoors to take a break. 

Parents need to protect a child’s face with a scarf and suntan lotion. Wind burn can severely hurt a child, and it is possible to get sunburn from the snow reflecting up to the sky. 

Parents also need to check their children regularly when they are playing outside. Younger children often have a tough time knowing when to come inside from the cold. Make sure their mittens and hats are dry, and their noses are not too red.  

“Kids are at a greater risk for frost bite than adults. Make sure they dress warm and do not spend too much time in the snow. If you notice frost bite (mostly occurring on fingers, toes, ears, nose, and cheeks) take your child to the nearest emergency department to be treated,” says George Parsons, D.O., director of Emergency Medicine at Springfield Hospital.  

Preparing for Winter Illness

Illness is more common when the weather turns cold. Respiratory ailments, especially viruses like the flu, are prevalent because people stay indoors and thus are exposed to more airborne germs. Make sure to wash your hands after coughing and blowing runny noses to help prevent the spread of viruses. It is also very important for children to wash their hands after they share their toys.

Seasonal illnesses near the holidays can be stressful for families, but most of these illnesses are mild and will resolve spontaneously. Parents and children should make the best of their time together, even when they are sick.

Crozer-Keystone cares for more than 119,000 patients each year at its four emergency departments, located at Crozer, DCMH, Taylor and Springfield. For more information, visit

To find a Crozer-Keystone physician who’s right for you, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) or visit

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