Health Library

Categories > Family Wellness > Preventing illness and disease

Winter health hazards

You won’t get stung by a bee or get food poisoning from eating potato salad that sat in the sun too long, but there are still plenty of opportunities to get in harm’s way during the winter. For a safer season, be wary of the following situations, which can lead to trouble:

Possible health issue: Heart attack

Possible causes: Shoveling snow or exercising strenuously in cold weather. The heart exerts itself in the cold, and physical activity taxes it even further.

How to stay safe: Move slowly and take frequent breaks. Consider buying a snow blower or using a small shovel, so you’ll pick up lighter scoops, which are easier to manage. Avoid alcohol, which can make you misjudge how hard you should be working.

Possible health issue: Frostbite

Possible causes: Staying outside too long, not dressing warmly enough or forgetting to wear gloves or mittens.

How to stay safe: Go inside when your extremities begin to feel painful, numb or tingly or if they look red. If they’re not back to normal in 30 minutes, seek medical attention.

Possible health issue: House fires

Possible causes: You’re more likely to use your fireplace, wood stove or space heater when it’s chilly outside. Holiday decorations may ignite.

How to stay safe: Be sure your home has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Have your chimney and flue cleaned or inspected each season. Keep space heaters three feet from anything flammable, including ornaments and Christmas trees. Don’t throw wrapping paper into the fireplace. Blow out candles when you leave a room.

Possible health issue: Car accidents or strandings

Possible causes: Driving during icy, snowy road conditions

How to stay safe: Don’t drive when roads are in bad condition, especially if you’re an inexperienced winter-weather driver. Keep your gas tank full so the fuel lines don’t freeze. If your car won’t start or you get stuck in a snowdrift, stay with your car and run the heater periodically to stay warm. Stock your car with a winter emergency kit containing food, beverages, blankets, a first-aid kit and cat litter to help spinning tires gain traction on snow or ice.

Possible health issue: Hypothermia

Possible causes: Your body temperature may drop too low if you stay outside too long, don’t dress warmly enough or stay in wet, cold clothing outdoors.

How to stay safe: Dress in layers and stay warm and dry. If you feel too cold, go inside, change into warm, dry clothing and drink warm beverages. Call 911 if anyone’s body temperature drops below 95° F.