Put a Freeze on Winter Storm Injuries: Expert Advice from UConn Health

Experts from UConn Health and the UConn Fire Department share these top safety tips to make sure everyone is prepared and stays safe during this weekend's major snowstorm.

(Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

With the winter storm approaching, UConn Health experts and the UConn Fire Department want to make sure everyone is prepared and safe. Please keep these safety tips top of mind:

If you don’t need to travel stay off the roads. If you do need to travel make sure you have enough gas, water, and snacks in your car and warm clothes, your phone charger, and medications.

Watch your step. Remember to put ice melt on steps and driveways, wear appropriate shoes with good traction, and be sure to carry a cell phone when going outside to be able to call for help if you do fall.

If you plan to use a space heater or generator take precautions. Home fires occur most often in winter.  Keep anything that can catch fire 3 ft. away from heating equipment. Whenever we use alternate heating methods you increase the risk of having a home fire or exposing yourself to dangerous carbon monoxide. Never use an oven to warm your cold home. Turn space heaters off when you leave a room or go to bed. Also, check all vents are clear of snow and ice to make sure any carbon monoxide can properly vent out of your home.

Generators should always be used outside the home. Poisoning can occur from carbon monoxide when a generator is not vented properly. This invisible gas is colorless, odorless and poisonous. Breathing in high levels can be fatal. Make sure you have CO alarms installed and test them once a month.

Recognize the signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia can set in quick. It is due to prolonged exposure to cold weather when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. This can cause dangerously low body temperature. It can make one shiver or feel confused, fatigued, sleepy and uncoordinated.  Also, frostbite can cause permanent tissue and nerve damage to toes, fingers, ears, nose, and other areas exposed to the cold with less fat to insulate them and less blood supply. Initially the cold can cause red, painful skin. Be sure to slowly rewarm your hands indoors. If left untreated, the area can becomes numb, pale, and hardened when ice crystals form in your skin.  Beware of any of these signs of frostbite – white, hard skin, blisters, and swelling after rewarming with persistent numbness or tingling. These warning signs need to be addressed by a health care provider. Learn more from the CDC.

Snow Shoveling Safety: Avoid a heart attack or other muscle injuries. Snow shoveling can be a high-stakes stress test, and those with coronary artery disease shouldn’t do it, say UConn Health heart experts who’ve seen a great deal of heart attack patients after shoveling. If you do have to shovel, be sure to avoid dangerous cold, dress in layers, don’t overdo it, and take frequent breaks. Use an ergonomically designed shovel that minimizes bending or a shovel with a lightweight plastic blade.  Also, it is important to warm up thoroughly, pacing yourself, and take frequent breaks. If the snow is deep, work your way to the surface a few inches at a time rather than digging from the bottom. A common injury are muscle strain/overuse injuries typically due to repetitive motions used in shoveling and snow blowing and can lead to overuse muscle strain injuries. Overuse injuries occur from stress on the bone, muscle, tendon or ligament. Over time these stresses cause the tissue to become inflamed and weaken. Snow blowers are friendlier to the lower back and shoulders than are snow shovels, but these machines also introduce another danger. Remember, do not put your hand in the snow blower to unclog it when it’s on as the engine has gears which can lead to hand injuries including loss of fingers.

Stay safe in the snowstorm everyone!